It's that time of year again. The weather is unpredictable, and there are still many preseason questions left unanswered. But most importantly, soccer is abundant. The seventeenth season of Major League Soccer in Columbus is upon us, and it all starts in Colorado.
The Crew will open their 2012 campaign in the Mile-High City on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (Eastern time), visiting Dick's Sporting Good Park as they take on the Colorado Rapids. This will be Columbus' only regular-season game against Colorado this year.
Both teams will be dealing with numerous injury problems. William Hesmer, the starting goalie for Columbus since 2007, won't be available. However, steady backup Andy Gruenebaum will slide into the starting spot pretty seamlessly. Gruenebaum started the Crew's two Carolina Cup Challenge games.
The Crew's defense is also pretty beat up. Starting center back Julius James is still out after an off-season shoulder surgery. Shaun Francis, the projected starter at left-back before the season, lost his spot to new addition Carlos Mendes during the pre-season. However, Mendes didn't travel with the team to Colorado due to a hamstring tightness. Expect Danny O'Rourke to fill in for James and Francis to reclaim his starting position.
On Colorado's side, forward Connor Casey, midfielder Jaime Smith, and defender Anthony Wallace all will not play, while defender Hunter Freeman is also doubtful.
Columbus will have some inexperienced MLS players putting in plenty of minutes on Saturday. Rookie Kirk Urso is expected to start in the middle of the field. Urso wasn't selected by anyone in the MLS SuperDraft this year out of the University of North Carolina, so the Crew were able to steal him in the Supplemental Draft. And what a steal he has been. Urso impressed the coaching staff so much in camp that he has earned a starting spot for First Kick, as well as possible corner kick duties.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven is currently fighting a knee injury, but is still reckoned to start. Expect rookie Ethan Finlay to come on as an attacking sub later in the game.
There is one thing every Columbus fan wants to see: Milovan Mirosevic. How exactly does he play? Is he a box-to-box midfielder, or more of an attacker? Will he dribble at people, or distribute the ball out wide? And most importantly, how will he team up with forward Emilio Renteria? All of these questions about the one of the most exciting additions in recent Crew history will soon be answered.
Prediction and more after the jump...
Prediction: Crew 2-1 Rapids
I have faith in this team. Columbus may not have had the best preseason (in fact, it was pretty bad), but I know they will want to come out of the gates fast in 2012. Revenge will be on the agenda, as Colorado knocked the Crew out of the playoffs two years running. Columbus will likely give up an early goal as they are so accustomed to doing, but a goal from a free kick and a strong solo effort by Renteria will give the yellow soccer team a resounding start to what will hopefully be another season full of trophies.
This is quite an exciting time for Crew soccer.