The Lions have always relied on their supporters. They come out in throngs of purple – packing the Citrus Bowl for every game and deafening opponents with their constant chants.
Recently City has been scrambling for points in an ever-tightening Eastern Conference race to the playoffs. But with the Columbus Crew coming to town for a third time this season, the Lions will once again need the support of their twelfth man.
“My message this week to our supporters is ‘We need you more than ever this weekend,’ ” said head coach Adrian Heath to reporters on Tuesday.
It’s been a theme of their post-training interviews all week, and for good reason. Crew SC has been City’s biggest rival since their MLS inception. Red cards have tilted the pitch both ways in their first two league matches, and the Lions face an uphill climb down the stretch. Of their final 13 games, 11 are against conference foes.
With Orlando City in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot, positive results are ever so important. Playing before a boisterous home crowd will give the team a much-needed boost to get back to their winning ways.
“It’s very important that we refocus. We’re capable of correcting those errors and ending the season on a positive run and doing something,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall. “We’re not playing for mediocrity. We’re playing to be the absolute best team in the country and that means getting excited for teams that are on fire and trying to stop them.”
Columbus is one of those teams. Since they last met, Crew SC have picked up 15 points in ten games, climbing to second place in the East. They have two of the hottest forwards in the league in Kei Kamara (15 goals) and Ethan Finlay (12 assists) and one of the best keepers in Steve Clark.
Orlando City has quite a few weapons in its arsenal too, though. Cyle Larin is coming off the best performance of his young career after bagging a hat trick against NYCFC, which earned him MLS Player of the Week honors. Pedro Ribeiro has been a force off the bench all season, and Carlos Rivas has been a new player since scoring his first run-of-play goal for Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup on June 30 – a spectacular strike against none other than Columbus.
To get three points, they’ll need to play their best soccer of the season against one of the most “in-form” teams in the league, according to Heath. Limiting mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities will be critical, but so will a great turnout of raucous supporters.
“We need (them) to make the Citrus Bowl bounce tomorrow,” said Heath. “We need an incredible atmosphere, and if we do, I’m convinced that we’ll put a performance to be proud of.”