Earlier this week, there was a question of whether Major League Soccer would kickoff as scheduled due to labor negotiations. On Wednesday, it was announced that the league and the Players Union had agreed to terms on a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, which means Columbus Crew SC takes on the Houston Dynamo tonight.
After a successful 2014, where the Black and Gold returned to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011, Crew SC are looking to take the next step. Columbus was eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual runner up New England Revolution. It was a young and inexperienced team a year ago, but now these players know what to expect.
Crew SC are expecting a lot of new signing Kei Kamara. The striker, who was drafted by the Black and Gold in 2006, is the hope to get his team over the hump after only 10 goals from the strikers last year. One thing that is certain, Kamara is excited to begin his second stint with Crew SC.
Two other key additions for Columbus, who will likely be seen in the opening contest, are center back Emanuel Pogatetz and right back Hernan Grana. Pogatetz joined late last season, but was unable to make an impact in 2014, playing just 52 minutes. Grana comes to Crew SC from Boca Juniors in Argentina. After a revolving door at right back a year ago, Berhalter and his staff believe Grana can be the on to lock that position down this year and help make the fullbacks a strength of the team.
One big question heading into 2015 is, can the midfield recreate their performances of a year ago? Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram (who will miss the game with the Dynamo due to suspension) combined for 19 goals and 11 assists. Federico Higuain tied Finlay for top scorer on the team with 11 goals and seven assists. Although their production wasn't as high statistically, Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani played a combined for 5,428 minutes last year and were solid in the center of the park for the Black and Gold.
Can these players, as well as others, replicate their production from last season? Will others step up in their place if they don't? These will all be answered in 2015.
As for tonight's match, Crew SC are looking for their first win in Houston ever. The two sides each won on their home field a year ago and also had a 2-2 draw at BBVA Stadium that featured the first professional goal of Trapp's career.
How might the two teams line up tonight?
With their new name, new logo, and new uniforms, it's time for the Black and Gold to kickoff 2015.
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