After a bye week, the Columbus Crew return to action against the Philadelphia Union. Neither team made the MLS Cup Playoffs last season and are looking to continue bright starts to the season when they meet in Columbus Crew Stadium. I teamed up with Eugene Rupinski of Brotherly Game to give both sets of fans some outside perspective.
Questions for Brotherly Game
MR: The Union has started the season on a positive note with a road draw in Portland and a win at home against the Revolution. How important is it to keep this momentum going on Saturday?
BG: I think with as tough as the East will be this season, it's critical to get as many points against in-conference opponents as possible. The club learned a hard lesson last season when dropped points against Real Salt Lake and Dallas cost them a spot in the playoffs, so expect them to really fight hard until the final whistle.
MR: What are the early thoughts on Maurice Edu? What does he add to this team that was missing last season and how has he fit in with the group so far?
BG: Edu has really been welcomed here with open arms, and thus far has delivered on the hype surrounding him. He brings international experience and a great amount of vision to the midfield - something that was sorely lacking last season. He seems to be fitting in well with the club, and us fans are certainly happy he's here.
MR: Crew fans still love Brian Carroll after he helped them win the MLS Cup. How important is he to Philadelphia? Does Leo Fernandes' play last week - while Carroll was out with an illness - threaten Carroll's spot?
BG: Brian Carroll is well-liked by Philadelphia fans, but we are realizing that time is catching up to him. He seems to be a step or two slower than a couple years ago, and while he is still our captain when healthy, who knows what his role will be with the club going forward. The team has plenty of depth at central defensive midfielder, not only with Maurice Edu but Sierra Leone international Michael Lahoud as well. We would expect that Brian will accept whatever his role is going forward because he is the consummate professional. Leo Fernandes is more of an attacking midfielder, so it's unlikely he would take Carroll's spot on a permanent basis unless John Hackworth is willing to change his tactics - not unheard of, but he had found success with the two-CDM setup this far.
Questions for Massive Report
BG: Columbus had a bye week last week. Will that be a benefit or a hindrance to the Crew?
MR: Historically bye weeks have not been kind to the Crew, but in this case I think it will be. This team has gone through a major transformation in style of play under Gregg Berhalter and despite the good performance against D.C. United in week one, another week of acclimating to the new principles should pay off.Philadelphia presents a step up in competition over a United side that is trying to put all the pieces together. This means they need to have an even better understanding than the first game and the bye week should have helped them.
BG: How are the Crew different under Gregg Berhalter as opposed to Robert Warzycha?
MR: Most of the ingredients are the same, but the way they played against D.C. was a whole new product. Warzycha favored a more reserve style and Berhalter wants to attack. The wing backs are much more involved in the play, getting forward early and often, and played a major part in the first goal of the season for Columbus. This style seems to have given new life to a team that ended last season with a bad taste in their mouths. The players are having fun playing the game and it is entertaining to watch (or at least it was last week).
Though it may appear the same as Warzycha's on paper, Berhalter's 4-4-1-1 formation has many more moving parts. Defensive midfielder Wil Trapp will often be seen dropping into a center back position as the outside backs get forward. Playmaker Federico Higuain has more space to operate and may be more of a focal point than he was previously. Berhalter wants to possess the ball in the attacking third, as opposed to Warzycha who was content keeping the ball in the middle until something materialized.
BG: Michael Parkhurst was the big signing for Columbus this offseason, but the club also picked up a pair of players (Steve Clark and Giancarlo González) from Norway. What do those guys (and the other new additions) add to the Crew?
MR: Parkhurst adds leadership and experience. He stated that he believes the biggest difference from his first stint in MLS is that he's a better leader and Berhalter verified this by naming him the captain before the opener. In the first game he was able to contain Eddie Johnson, though it didn't seem United had quite figured out how to use him.
Gonzalez adds size to the defensive line that was lost when Chad Marshall was traded to Seattle. He is the stereotypical center back and adds international experience from his time with Costa Rica. Steve Clark may be the most vocal goalkeeper in Crew history (and that includes Jon Busch). He does a great job organizing the back line and distributes the ball effectively. Both players will be tested more this week than game one.
The other player to note is Hector Jimenez. His acquisition from the L.A. Galaxy was pretty quiet but he impressed in preseason and in the opener. Dominic Oduro was suspended against United, but Berhalter likes the way the team is playing with Jimenez wide right. He is similar to the now retired Eddied Gaven, who didn't always make a great play but made the right plays and was consistently in good positions.