Crew SC have not had the brightest of starts this season, with just one win against a ten man Toronto FC team out of their first three games, and will be looking to right the ship on the road. They'll be facing a Vancouver side that is coming off of a 2-0 home win over the defending MLS Champions, the LA Galaxy, Saturday night, an impressive performance that landed the Whitecaps in top spot, both in the Western Conference and in the early race for the Supporters Shield.
In the short history between these two sides the Black and Gold have been largely unsuccessful, with only two wins in five tries against the Whitecaps. Both victories came in 2011, Vancouver's first year in the league and both came by one goal margins. Emilio Renteria bagged a brace in the home match to give the Crew a 2-1 victory that season followed by Jeff Cunningham's late game winner in Vancouver later that year to give Columbus the win, one goal to nil. That goal was Cunningham's 133rd of his career, tying the all-time MLS record at the time. Those were the only two wins the Crew have recorded over the West Coast Canadians, as Vancouver have won all three meetings since, one each season. The most recent was last season at then Crew Stadium, where Erik Hurtado's goal was the difference.
It is obviously still early days in the 2015 season but the Whitecaps have hit the ground running, winning an MLS club record four in a row after their opening night defeat to Toronto. Over that run, they have scored six goals and conceded just one.
Octavio Rivero has four goals, including three in his last three games, thus far this season and has proven to be a constant threat to opposing defenses. The name of the game for the Whitecaps has been pace, with speedy winger Kekuta Manneh in particular posing a threat. He scored his first goal of the season in the the Galaxy game, and could be looking to get on the score-sheet again against a Crew SC defense that is coming off an error-strew performance against the New York Red Bulls.
The Black and Gold will be without Federico Higuain, suspended after picking up two yellows against the Red Bulls, and will have to shuffle the line up once again as a result. With no real like-for-like replacement, head coach Gregg Berhalter once again faces selection choices. His options include Ben Speas, who is probably the closest thing to a like for like, Kristinn Steindorsson, moving inside from the left wing, Hector Jimenez, who spent some time in the Pipa role in preseason, or perhaps most interestingly, Mohammed Saeid, who has been very impressive thus far this season. Assuming Wil Trapp is back and ready to play, which all signs point to being the case, Saeid could well take Pipa's spot but drop a little deeper, giving the Crew a more traditional 4-3-3 formation. Whomever takes over for the talismanic playmaker will have to be on top of his game, as this match could be won or lost in the midfield.
The transition game will be vital for either team to get a result. Despite dominating the defending champions last time out, Vancouver have been primarily a counter-attacking team this season, using their extraordinary pace to move quickly from a tight, compact defense in to a rapid counter. With both full backs, Hernan Grana and the returning Waylon Francis, usually diving forward in the attack, this could open up real possibilities for the Canadians on the break. Grana in particular will need to be careful, as he will likely be matched up against Manneh. Emanuel Pogatetz and Michael Parkhurst will also have to be at the top of their game to shut down Rivero, whose movement may give the big duo problems.
Another worry for Crew SC will be their inability to effectively deal with the high-press. It has been a thorn in their side all year, even dating back to the preseason. Vancouver have not used the high-press constantly, but they did bring it out to great effectiveness against the Galaxy. This is where the selection of Pipa's replacement could prove vital. If Berhalter indeed goes with Saeid, it could prove the key to unlocking the press. A more possession based player may be the key outlet in breaking the pressure on the center backs to defensive mid connection. If that first connection can be made, the ball can get out to the more creative wide players, and good things may happen for the Black and Gold.
Check back with Massive Report for more updates as we get closer to the match.
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