The Columbus Crew Reserves will be making the short drive across I-70 to face the Dayton Dutch Lions on Saturday. The Dutch Lions’ marketing department is billing the game as the “Battle of Ohio.” While this is a match-up between the only two professional soccer clubs in the Buckeye State, I’m not sure that fans in black and gold would agree with the hype. It is, however, a very important match for the Dutch Lions.
First of all, this game could bring a biggest crowd of the season to Beavercreek High School for a Dayton Dutch Lions match. Soccer fans, of which there are many in the Miami Valley, have largely stayed away from Dayton’s home games this season. I think everyone associated with the Dutch Lions is hopeful that the familiar name associated with the opposition will convince even casual fans to come out to the stadium. If the Dayton is able to perform the way they did in Columbus a couple of weeks ago in the USOC, it is likely that many of them will return for future USL PRO matches.
Second, the results of the match count in the USL PRO standings, and there are several USL/MLS matches slated for this weekend. In a nominal USL PRO weekend, for every team that fails to earn a point there is another team that earns three. That’s not the case this weekend. There is the potential for several teams to see their point totals stay where they currently are. If the Dutch Lions desire to hold on the to the playoff spot they currently occupy, a victory over the Crew will be of utmost importance.
Finally, there is a sense of unfinished business. The Crew used star veterans like Frederico Higuain and Eddie Gaven to edge out an undermanned Dutch Lions team by a score of 2-1 in the USOC this year. Dayton played perhaps the best soccer that the team has played all season in the loss. Despite the fact that the Crew’s stars won’t be on the pitch, the Dutch Lions are primed to garner a bit of redemption.
The question is which Dutch Lions team is going to take the field. Will it be the determined, focused side we saw previously against the Crew? Or, will it be the team that came out flat last weekend against the Los Angeles Blues, the one that did little to create many genuine chances in the scoring third?
We’ve seen both versions of this team show up at various times throughout the season. For all the reasons I mentioned above, I’d be willing to be that we get the better version on Saturday night. My Reckless Prediction is that the Dutch Lions will prevail 3-1.
Players to Watch
One of the players to watch in this match is Dayton winger Eli Garner. To this point in the season, Garner’s statistical output hasn’t matched his potential. His most notable moment may have come when he earned an ejection in the season opener against Pittsburgh. He is due. No, he is overdue for a breakout game. I believe it’s going to come this weekend against the Crew. I don’t think the Columbus reserve side has an answer for his pace on the flanks.
Over the last two games, Irakli Khutsidze has shown some signs that the hype surrounding his arrival Dayton wasn’t just hype. He’s been winning more of the 50/50 balls in midfield, and his deft footwork has helped the Dutch Lions maintain possession is some precarious situations. If he can help the midfield connect with the front line in creative ways, Dayton is going to light up the scoreboard.
I’ve mentioned previously that Matt Williams, Dayton keeper, has found a spark recently. He hadn’t been playing poorly, but his recent form has been nearly spectacular. The Dutch Lions have a propensity for poorly defending set pieces, so Williams may be called upon to make an outrageous save at a crucial point in this match.
Here’s something you may not have known about USL PRO: A player’s limit before earning a game suspension is five yellow cards. There is, however, a seven-day waiting period between earning the fifth yellow card and the enforcement of the suspension. I bring this up because Gibson Bardsley earned his fifth yellow card last Sunday against Los Angeles. Since the game against the Crew is on Saturday, he will be available to play in that match. His suspension will be enforced next week against VSI Tampa Bay.
In other Dutch Lions news, it was announced yesterday that Dutch Lions head coach Patrick Bal had his contract extended. Bal will be returning to coach Dayton through the 2014 season. Given that the team is off to its best ever start, it was the appropriate time for the front office to announce that Bal would be back at the helm next season.