To help preview Saturday night's showdown with the Chicago Fire, Ryan Sealock from Hot TIme in Old Town traded questions with me about our respective teams. We covered topics such as who to watch, the fallout from Wednesday's win over Seattle, and each team's respective fanbases.
Both sets of questions and answers after the jump...
Questions for the Fire
1) Many casual fans, myself included, know about Dominic Oduro's goalscoring exploits last season, but are perhaps less familiar with some of the newer faces the team has added in the attack. Who would you suggest Columbus fans keep an eye on this Saturday?
In terms of new faces on the attack, I would say to watch Federico Puppo or Rafael Robayo. Puppo has been on the cusp of scoring his first MLS goal for awhile but has not been able to find the net. Unfortunately sometimes when he comes in as a later sub, he is miscast up top as a lone striker. He cannot handle this role, he is much better when he has someone to play off of. If he steps onto the pitch today and has a strike partner, I would definitely keep an eye on him.
Rafael Roabyo is a dynamic midfielder that can play different positions. Although last match he started out deep as a defensive midifelder, his best role seems to be that of Sebastian Grazzini- center attacking midfielder. After Robayo shifted higher up the midfield last match, his play and the team's play improved. If Grazzini does not go the full 90 and Robayo gets a chance to orchestrate the offense from midfield, he would be another face to watch.
2) Chicago and Columbus both find themselves in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings as we enter the summer months; with making the playoffs getting harder each year, how much emphasis do you think the club places on winning games like this, on the road against clubs also clawing to get into playoff position? Or is a road draw enough, leading us to expect the sort of tactics the Crew ended up adopting earlier this week on the west coast?
We will undoubtedly be pushing for the win. Although we are in the middle of a very busy stretch, a game against Columbus is always a bit more special in my opinion. Given the fact that over 600 fans will be making the trek East to be a part of the invasion, I know the team will push even harder to send them home with all 3 points. While I do agree there are times to maybe play for a draw depending on the situation, I can't see that happening today at all. I expect the Fire to come out with a very high tempo and fast pace. Additionally, Chris Rolfe is traveling with the team. It will be an extra special moment if he makes his Fire re-debut today, if only for a minute or two.
3) There's been some debate in Columbus soccer circles this year about who the Crew's biggest rival is - candidates typically include DC, Chicago, and Toronto. From the Chicago side of things, where would you say the Crew falls in the Fire's list of rivals (either among the fans, or from the club itself)
For me personally I rate the Crew as the biggest rival. From other fans I know, the answers tend to be mixed. I know a lot of fans see New England as our main rival. There is also a good contingent of fans that would say FC Dallas. Even though New York doesn't seem like the traditional rival, there is definitely no love lost between Fire fans and NYRB fans. And no Fire fans like Seattle. So there are quite a few choices in Fire Land, but really it usually comes down to Columbus, New England, or FC Dallas.
Questions for the Crew
1) Wednesday's victory over Seattle came as a shock to just about everyone in MLS. What was your level of shock, if any, and what positives do you hope carryover for the Crew on Saturday? (via Tweed Thornton)
I was surprised, but not shocked. There is a reason that platitudes like "that is why they play the game" exist. The Crew certainly stole a result against the run of play, but their strategy in doing so was very predictable. They also had some experience, having gone through a similar onslaught in San Jose last weekend. The difference between the two games was that in Seattle the team was able to get a second goal, and they showed the kind of consistent composure that has eluded them in recent games. In San Jose they lost two points from a single defensive collapse, while in the home loss to Vancouver the team seemed to come unraveled after conceding the late goal. I would also point to the second half of their game in Portland several weeks ago - a game in which the team was forced to bunker under intense pressure.
2) Do you think Columbus Crew fans are relishing the challenge of trying to out sing hundreds of Fire fans Saturday during the Firehouse East Invasion? (via Nick Fedora)
Crew Stadium has seen a number of large traveling contingents in recent years - and their presence does increase the level of excitement in the stadium. While in recent years it has seemed that Toronto has sent larger groups than Chicago, my sense of the rivalries is that fans are more excited by the Fire (or DC United), and annoyed/condescending to Toronto. The rivalry with Chicago has come largely from on-field results - going all the way back to the 1998 Open Cup Final in which Columbus was forced to play at Soldier Field, but as the home team. DC United and Columbus have a long and storied rivalry that has been one-sided at times. With Toronto, however, the rivalry is almost entirely among the front offices and supporters - the on-field drama simply hasn't been there.
All this is to say that I believe Crew fans look forward to _any_ large group of traveling fans.
3) If you had to pick a team MVP at this point in the season, who would it be and why? (via Nick Fedora)
I'd have to say Andy Gruenebaum. He has done remarkably well in his extended stretch as the Crew's #1 goalkeeper, and these last two games have been great testaments to his skills. With the number of injuries the team has suffered, my only other two potential candidates would be Josh Williams and Eddie Gaven; both are solid contributors, but their impact has not been as great as Gruenebaum's.
Bonus) The Crew currently sit in 5th place in the East. What do you think are the chances that the Crew make the playoffs this year? (via Ryan Sealock)
I'd say we have a 50/50 shot at this point in the season. Qualifying will be harder than it was last season with a handful of teams currently enjoying a good run of form - which is a significant departure from last year's very week teams. If the Crew can keep getting good production out of these stand-in players like Williams, Meram or Grossman, they'll almost certainly qualify.
Ryan has posted these same questions and answers over on Hot Time in Old Town.