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Columbus Crew Look to Rebound With Tough Road Test

After suffering their first loss of the season, the Columbus Crew will face a physical battle at Buck Shaw Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Last Saturday the Columbus Crew suffered their first defeat of the season to Toronto FC and look to rebound on the road, traveling west to face the San Jose Earthquakes.

"I'm really interested to see [how the team responds]," Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said this week. "Our game revolves around having confidence and we want to keep it up. I think obviously losing a game, your confidence is going to dip a little and it's our job to get it up again."

Berhalter believes his team has done well in training this and called the season a process where you can't overreact to one loss. He will get a stiff test on Sunday.

Columbus, and the league's best road goal differential head to a venue that has been a fortress for the Earthquakes. Before their loss two weeks ago, the Quakes were riding a 21-game unbeaten run in all competitions at Buck Shaw Stadium, using their aggressive style to consistently get results.

"It's a good team," Berhalter said. "They're very aggressive physically. They're very good on set pieces. They're very good on crossed balls. They do throw ins, they do free kicks, they do corner kicks extremely well. So it's going to be a good game, they're tough."

Of the four goals San Jose has scored, three of them have come from set plays. So what makes them so dangerous from restarts? The Crew's head coach has spent plenty time this week figuring that out.

"The first thing is, how they attack it, the type of runs they make, and how aggressive they attack the ball," he said of the Earthquakes. "Then you add the fact that they have some great height, and great strength, and great jumping ability."

The Quakes load up on big players who are dangerous in the air to create problems for the opponent and it has been successful.

"You look at [Clarence] Goodson, [Victor Bernadez], and [Aaron Gordon] or [Steven Lenhart] and those are three top set piece guys in the league and they have them all on one team," Berhalter observed. "That makes it a challenge and it's going to be a challenge for us."

Another challenge is the service of midfielder Shea Salinas, who has two assists on the season but has provided been dangerous distributing on set pieces and the run of play.

With a smaller defensive line, the Black and Gold will require a team effort in order to keep San Jose from beating them on restarts.

The Earthquakes are not a one-trick pony, though; they can hurt teams in other ways. The Crew will have their hands full with the attacking talent on display in northern California.

"They have a good strike force over there," defender Josh Williams said.

"Obviously [Chris Wondolowski], he's been one of the better forwards in the league. He's deadly. He only needs one chance and he can bang one. And then Lenhart and Gordon and all those guys coming and they're always lurking around there, big bodies, physical presence."

Lenhart, an MLS Cup winner with the Black and Gold, will miss the game with an MCL sprain, but the options are still plentiful. Wondolowski is a U.S. National Team forward, who is tied for the team lead with two goals this season. Alan Gordon, who will likely partner Wondolowski, gives San Jose a perfect combination.

"That type of striker compliments Wondolowski really well because he plays off of that guy and he makes good movements depending on where the ball is served to the bigger guy. He's really smart at figuring that out," Berhalter said.

The Quakes will look to stretch the game and cause chaos throughout with their physical style of play. They will combat Columbus' possession game with counter attacks and hustle, looking to get the ball in front of goal whenever possible.

Despite only one point on the season, Williams still believes this is a team that has earned respect around the league.

"They're a good team," he said.

"I think some results just haven't gone their way this year. I think you only get respect because teams know you're dangerous. They know you're capable of pulling a win out of any game."

Both teams will be looking to respond from disappointing home losses in their last outing and Berhalter believes that this is most important thing for success in a long season.

"You have to bounce back from defeats," he said.

"You're going to have a couple [losses]. There's going to be stretches where guys aren't in the best of form but you have to find a way to bounce back. That consistency is key. Finding a certain level of performance and maintaining that."