Opposition Outlook aims to bring you insight into an upcoming Fire or Red Stars opponent through the eyes of the people that follow the opponent the closest.
Today's edition features Orri Benatar from Massive Report. I spoke with Orri via email to ask him about his journey, the Crew's season thus far, and the upcoming match, the last to be played at Historic Crew Stadium.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: I’m always interested in how media folks ended up getting into soccer media and how they became a fan of the team they follow. Can you give a brief story that describes that journey?
OB: I’ve grown up as a soccer fan my whole life and it started with the Columbus Crew. As someone born in Ohio’s capital and lived here since Day 1, my Dad would always take my brother and me to Crew Stadium to watch the Black & Gold every summer.
I fell in love with the sport. Working in sports has always been my dream and with soccer as my favorite sport, covering the Crew as my first professional team is a match made in heaven. I didn’t realize just one and a half years on this beat we’d witness a championship, a pandemic, a rebrand, a re-rebrand, and so much more.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: This is obviously not just any game for the Crew, but the last game at Historic Crew Stadium. It's such a legendary place to play and watch soccer, so what are the feelings of Crew fans surrounding the move to the new stadium?
OB: Bittersweet. For 22 years, Crew Stadium has given thousands of Columbus residents the best and worst memories of their lives which is what you expect from your home. But it’s no longer the state-of-art stadium you expect from a Major League Soccer club and Lower.com Field will be that and more. The excitement is high to move to downtown at the new digs but Saturday will be an emotional evening.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: For those who haven't seen a lot of Crew play this season, how would you describe Caleb Porter's style of play?
OB: Possession-based with emphasis on crosses from the wings. With a midfielder like Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the park, the Crew is excellent at keeping possession for long spells with his and Artur’s distribution leading to passes out on the wing.
With wingers like Pedro Santos, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., and soon Kevin Molino, the Black & Gold have speed and skill to get crosses into Gyasi Zardes or find an open Lucas Zelarayan who can single-handedly win games for the Crew.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: Heading into the season, the Crew were MLS Cup favorites. You guys won it last year and somehow improved upon the team heading into this season. You currently sit sixth in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. Would you say that the Crew have underperformed so far this season? If yes, what have been the main reasons? It seems that you guys got off to a slow start due to CCL and have had some key injuries.
OB: I’d say the Crew has performed above average for the CCL teams but below average for its preseason expectations. With how deep the roster is, the expectation was for Columbus to blitz through the East but MLS is never easy. Playing CCL and MLS games in the Spring caused the team to deal with injuries which they are still managing.
A slow start offensively had the team struggling to get wins but two straight victories before the break and key players like Molino and Milton Valenzuela getting healthier has the momentum shifting in the Crew’s favor.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: I'm not sure if you've seen a lot of the Fire play, but if you have, what are you worried about (if anything) when looking at this Fire side?
OB: The midfield’s link up play with Robert Berić. Chicago has one of the better goalscorers in the league with Berić and he’ll find his form sooner rather than later. Even without Frankowski, the Fire have a solid center mid in Álvaro Medrán who can pass around the Crew defense and cause issues. Crew head coach Caleb Porter said he is not taking this game lightly.
SECOND CITY SOCCER: Match predictions?
OB: Storybook endings are common in sports and this stadium will get a perfect ending on Saturday. The Columbus Crew will close out its 22 year home with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire.