After an entertaining 2-2 draw against league leaders Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night, Columbus Crew SC head back east, this time Boston-bound to play the New England Revolution on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
This contest marks the first meeting of the season for the Eastern Conference rivals since last year's playoff series, which went to New England 7-3 on aggregate. A frigid home leg saw Columbus lose in front of an embarrassingly empty stadium 4-2, giving up goals to Chris Tierney, Lee Nguyen, and a brace to Charlie Davies, with Federico Higuain and Justin Meram on the score sheet for the home side. The away leg was a fiesty affair which saw Nguyen, Jose Goncalves, and Teal Bunbury score for the Revs, with Tony Tchani getting the lone goal for Crew (not yet SC).
The Black and Gold are 31-21-11 all time against the Revs, with a 14-13-5 record away from home.
Higuain missed last year's away leg, but after serving his one match ban for picking up two yellow cards against the New York Red Bulls, he should be rejoining the team in New England. Ben Speas played decently in his absence, but there's no question the starting place remains with the Argentine. The hope for head coach Gregg Berhalter will be that Higuain's playmaking abilities will help Kei Kamara build on his two-goal performance against Vancouver. The combo of an in form Kamara and Higuain, who has undoubtedly been Crew SC's best player since his arrival, is something that fans of the Black and Gold have been hoping to see this season. If it clicks, it could finally be the start of "The Goals Have Arrived Era" in Columbus.
Crew SC's second match in four days sees them face a New England side that have won two in a row after going winless in three to start the season. Last year's MLS Cup finalists are coming off a 2-0 road win over a Colorado Rapids side that is still yet to score in the 2015 season. Juan Agedelo opened the scoring in the 19th minute, chipping the Rapids keeper after showing a spectacular first touch. Ngyuen scored from the penalty spot in the second half after Charlie Davies was fouled in the box by Jared Watts. It was the first goal of the season for both players, leaving them joint second on the team behind Kelyn Rowe, who has two goals.
New England struggled to find the net in their first three games this season, but seem to be moving in the right direction, which could make for a very interesting match this Saturday against a Crew SC side trying to build momentum after a start-stop opening to their 2015 campaign.
Columbus did not take right back Hernan Grana, left back Waylon Francis, or center back Emmanuel Pogatetz with them on their Canadian excursion, but only Francis features on the injury report released Thursday, where he's listed as questionable with a right ankle sprain.
Joining him on the injury report is Wil Trapp, who is reported to have both a right calf strain and concussion-like symptoms, both stemming from the same incident in training. It is unknown what Trapp's status for Saturday is at this time, but it is not unreasonable to expect at least Grana and Pogatetz to be playing. Mohammed Saeid came on at the half on Wednesday for Trapp, so expect him to start if Trapp can't go.
For New England the only player listed on the report is Jermaine Jones, who is questionable with a sports hernia surgery from the offseason, with an added note listing him as day-to-day. The U.S. International is yet to feature this year for his club, and his availability for Saturday remains unknown.
With something that will at least be resembling a first choice back four, Crew SC will be hoping to eliminate much of the shakiness that plagued them Wednesday night in Vancouver. A worry, however, will be that the one first choice starter Wednesday, Michael Parkhurst, had perhaps his worst match in a Crew SC jersey. He switched off on a quick throw in that led to a goal, and after a shaky performance against RBNY, his form has left some fans more than a little worried.
Against the likes of Nguyen, Agedelo, and Davies, a strong showing may be required from the center back pairing. The forwards posses a fair amount of quickness and good movement, and can finish their, so cutting out the type of mistakes that were made against New York will be vital. Either Trapp or Saeid will have to watch for second runs in to the box from the midfield, particularly if the forwards are running straight at the center backs.
On the offensive side, the Black and Gold will look to get more solid play for the wings, with Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay likely to retain their starting places, unless Berhalter again opts to rotate the squad. With so much attention likely to be focused on target man Kei Kamara, fresh off his first brace of the season, runs in to the box from out wide will be especially vital. The wide backs for New England struggled early this season, but have not been tested as much lately. Crew SC will look to get after them on the attack, or perhaps the counter, and it may well be their best chance of winning.
Stay tuned to Massive Report for info on how to watch, projected lineups, as well as a live game thread during the match, where you can interact with your favorite MR writers. And Matt.
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