Caleb Porter believes Orlando City’s forward line will be one of the toughest his Columbus Crew side will come up against in MLS, and singled out Alexandre Pato as “world class”.

Pato, 32, is in his second season with Orlando, though he had a disappointing 2021, failing to score across five appearances. Yet he already has two goals and as many assists to his name this season, with Orlando having made a bright start to 2022 – they are second in the Eastern Conference with 11 points from seven games heading into Saturday’s trip to Columbus, who sit three points behind in seventh place.

“They’re more talented than they were last year,” Crew coach Porter said of Orlando. “That’s the most talented front four that we’ve faced and I think it’s the most talented front four Oscar [Pareja] has had.

“They have a true No. 9 [Ercan] Kara who’s strong, nice feet, good hold-up player. Pato’s a world class player, so you lose [Chris] Mueller but you get Pato back who was injured last year and is a world class player.

“In the box, he’s got as much quality as anyone in our league in and around the goal. Torres is a very nice payer, really direct, left-footed, provides a lot of width. And Pereyra’s really come into his own, really smart, good rhythm player, likes to overload wide, works in the half-spaces.”

Pareja was also effusive in his praise of Pato.

” think he started on the right foot with being connected with his teammates on the training [ground] and the effort and the connectivity we all aim to have in the team,” Pareja said. “His talent is there, his experience is there and I think he has a lot to contribute to the team.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Columbus Crew – Derrick Etienne

Derrick Etienne created three chances in the Crew’s defeat to the Philadelphia Union last week, a joint team-high.

Orlando City – Alexandre Pato

Pato has contributed to a goal in his last three appearances (one goal, two assists) after being involved in just one in his first eight MLS games.

KEY OPTA FACTS

Columbus defeated Orlando, 3-2, in October to end a five-match losing streak against the Lions. Only one of those five losses were in Columbus, as the Crew has an all-time record of W4 D1 L1 against Orlando at home in MLS.

After losing just two of their previous 14 games, Columbus have lost two in a row, suffering 1-0 defeats to Nashville SC and Philadelphia.

Columbus have not gone three straight MLS matches without scoring in nearly three years, since doing so in June-July 2019, including a 2-0 home loss to Orlando.

Orlando have a record of W3 D2 L2 through seven games this season, not posting the same result in consecutive matches. Including last season’s playoff defeat, Orlando have not recorded the same result in consecutive matches in any of their last 12 games dating back to a pair of draws in late October.

The Crew have used an MLS-low 17 players this season, including a league-low 13 different starters. Nine players have started every game for the Crew this season, while 12 players have appeared in every game, both are most in the league in 2022.