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Columbus Crew SC hits the road for a tough contest in Seattle

Wil Trapp and Gregg Berhalter break down prevalent talking points in anticipation of Columbus' matchup with the Sounders.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

This week's Columbus Crew SC matchup pits the club against the Seattle Sounders amid what's invariably always a frenzied fan atmosphere at CenturyLink Field.

And despite Seattle being a team that has struggled early in 2016, squaring off against the Washington side on its home turf presents some challenges­—and certainly some opportunities—for the visiting squad that seems to have found its rhythm.

"I think it's exciting to go to CenturyLink and play, because you know the place is going to be packed, you know it's going to be rockin'," Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp said Thursday after the team's final practice before departing for Seattle. "The atmosphere is one of the best in MLS ... We're going there to win a game and it just makes it more exciting that it's going to be in front of 50,000 people."

Factor in the likelihood that star strikers and Designated Players Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez figure to be reactivated to join the 18 Saturday after missing the road trip to Colorado, and it's a chance head coach Gregg Berhalter is relishing.

"We're projecting that Dempsey's going to play. Morris is going to play. Valdez will probably play some role," Berhalter said Thursday at the EAS Training Center. "So, you know, we just go on what we've been seeing. And it's a good group. I like that attacking group, it's a top group in the league. It's going to be fun. A good challenge for us."

Jordan Morris, a 21-year-old homegrown player hailing from Mercer Island, Wash., has now scored a goal for the Sounders in two consecutive games, showing that Seattle adapts even when injury poses adversity.

Columbus is dealing with some of its own health issues, as midfielders Tony Tchani and Mohammed Saeid are also officially listed as questionable as of Saturday morning, along with Dempsey and Valdez. Tchani has been dealing with a lingering right calf strain but Berhalter said Thursday that he was traveling to Seattle.

Saeid will likely remain scratched from the lineup due to a neck injury and concussion he sustained last week on a violent challenge in the Houston game, for which the league disciplinary committee has suspended and fined the culpable Alex.

If Tchani also sits, then Guatemalan rookie Rodrigo Saravia could get his first start as a member of the Black & Gold, and Trapp knows the battle in the midfield will continue to be crucial to Crew SC's chances of leaving Seattle with a win.

Against Houston, Trapp said he "thought Mo and I did a good job of creating lanes for Michael [Parkhurst] to play passes in to Justin [Meram] and then being able to support off of him. And Justin, I mean, he's good turning in pockets and he can be dangerous when he gets running at you. So I think the biggest thing is, for us, finding ways to open up space for those ahead of us and then support underneath."

Crew SC will be playing on artificial turf for the second time this season in Saturday's match, and personnel are aware that it changes the pace and feel of the game.

"Every once in a while it's fun to play on turf," Berhalter said. "Things happen a little bit quicker. Defensive positions are a little bit more difficult to come by because the ball moves quicker than it does on grass. On grass, it slows down a little bit, so you have time to get there. Sometimes, on turf, it's tricky so you come in harder, it's harder to change direction."

And yet, the third-year Crew SC manager welcomes the challenge that turf poses to his team, even in the event of inclement weather in the Pacific Northwest.

"Wet turf is fast, you know, that's without question. But hopefully they'll wet it anyway. We want a fast surface," Berhalter said.

In regard to the CenturyLink playing surface, Trapp is not worried.

"Seattle keeps theirs fairly up to date, so you're not going to have too many issues with it," he said. "It does create a little bit more pounding on your joints than obviously grass would. And I think there's a few more unnatural bounces of the ball, but they're unnatural for both sides of the team and for both sides. You can't make excuses, it's just dealing with it.

And as far as considering individual and unit matchups, Trapp was respectful of what the Sounders brings to the table but also willing to identify weaknesses he and his Columbus colleagues would try to exploit.

"They've got a lot of pace to get in behind with a guy like Jordan Morris. Clint is always gonna be dangerous on the ball. Fairly stout defensively, but they can be exposed," Trapp said. "I think there can be space on either side of their central midfielders and that's something that we're going to try to exploit with the way we play. But we're not trying to change too much.

"There's no crazy changes that we need to make. We've won two games in a row and I think the biggest thing is bringing the focus, concentration and intensity that we've had the past two games."

And while Crew SC got a victory last week, one cog that typically contributes to the success of the squad was out of sync. Ethan Finlay was subbed off uncharacteristically early—in the 62nd minute—after encountering little success in 1 v. 1 matchups versus DaMarcus Beasley and very few touches altogether along the right side.

But Berhalter praised Finlay's professionalism and hardworking attitude as absolutes, despite the comparatively poor showing versus Houston.

"The one great thing about Ethan is, regardless of his performance on the weekend, you know exactly what you're going to get during the week. And, you know, you can't say that for every player," Berhalter said. "He just brings a tremendous amount of work rate, every week. So, you know, he's business as usual. He's been focused, he's been working hard and he was a little disappointed to come off and I would expect that. But we expect him to bounce back this week."

Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. Eastern Time and the match will be televised locally on ABC 6 and Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.