Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath is looking forward to this weekend’s rematch with the Columbus Crew SC, a team he calls one of his favorites in MLS.
Orlando will be without star midfielder Brek Shea, who’s straight red card in last Sunday’s match at San Jose will keep him out of the lineup. Heath is more excited than nervous, though; he will have several key players available for selection for the first time in months.
Carlos Rivas could get his first start since March 13th at Houston, where he played 54 minutes before being subbed off. Heath has since used Rivas in a substitute role, bringing the 21-year-old Colombian on seven times this season. He played striker earlier this season, but with Cyle Larin continuing to play well, Rivas could find himself at his more natural midfield spot.
“If the opportunity arises for (Rivas), he’s got to take that opportunity,” said Heath.
Rivas has been struggling to stay healthy this season and has missed significant time from training. Still, Heath knows what the young Designated Player can do for his Club.
“He’s very, very quick. He’s ridiculously quick. He’s got a cannon of a left foot, he’s got a goal-scoring record.”
Lewis Neal and Pedro Ribeiro will also be back and available for selection, according to Heath. Neal started the first two games of the season at left midfield and Ribeiro started three games before injuring his hamstring against D.C. United on April 3rd.
Aurélien Collin will likely be back in the lineup at center back against the Crew SC. Collin suffered a minor hamstring injury in Washington, D.C. and missed the last two games. Heath won’t say if the Frenchman will be in the lineup though, saying, “we’ll have a better idea of where he lies on Thursday or Friday.”
Columbus is off to a solid start, compiling 15 points through 11 games, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. They use the same formation as Orlando City, with Argentinian star Federico Higuaín manning the central midfield in their 4-2-3-1. Striker Kei Kamara is coming off a stellar performance against the Chicago Fire, scoring both of the Crew SC’s goals and earning MLS Player of the Week honors.
Stopping Higuaín and Kamara will be critical for the Lions to secure a positive result. Both players scored in Columbus’ 3-0 win over City in Ohio on April 18th. Despite the result, Heath said he thought the Lions “probably played as good of football as we’ve played during the season.” Orlando controlled much of the game, but Rafael Ramos’ 34th minute straight red card pushed the team off balance and they couldn’t contain Columbus’ potent attack.
Heath anticipates an attacking-minded approach from Columbus, as opposed to the defensive tactics utilized by other opponents in the Orlando Citrus Bowl.
“They’ll come out and open the game up and challenge, and we think that’s when we’re at our best.”
The Lions will need to be at their best to earn the three points on Saturday. The game marks the first of four consecutive Eastern Conference matchups for the Orlando City.