It's been a weird season. Not just for Columbus Crew SC, who sit uncharacteristically low in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but for all of Major League Soccer. We blame this MLS start to the year to our fairly terrible start to predicting games.
With that said, we at Massive Report aren't giving up because we aren't quitters.
On Saturday, the Black & Gold head out to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Sounders. Unless you've developed amnesia, you remember the last time Columbus went to CenturyLink Field and walked out of there with a 94th minute game-winner courtesy of a Justin Meram strike.
Crew SC hope that a return to the scene of that crime that helped kickstart the success of the last two years can get this season going.
"There's a lot of water under the bridge since then," head coach Gregg Berhalter said thinking back to that match. "It is a distant memory, but it's certainly a fond memory. It was an early success of this group and in dramatic fashion. So that always stays with you."
The Black & Gold have two wins in a row, but both of those came at MAPFRE Stadium. Can Columbus get the club's first win of the season on the road against a Seattle sound that hasn't looked convincing? Let's see what (some) of our staff thinks.
I've found my gut responses have generally been wrong, so I'll hedge my bets when my gut tells me a 1-1 draw is reasonable ... and say Seattle takes it 2-1. My reasoning? On the road, on turf, against a team that that's he was not a couple of key healthy bodies back in the lineup. My prediction is also based on my assumption Rodrigo Saravia is getting his first start and that Tony Tchani is not ready to put in 75-80 minutes. I'm just not confident enough yet (and too cynical) to believe this is a team ready to be consistent, especially with some absences, and Seattle is not an easy place to go play.
Seattle Sounder 2 Columbus Crew SC 1
Both teams are struggling, not reaching lofty expectations. Seattle is still going through transition after the departure of Obafemi Martins and the introduction of Jordan Morris and some new blood. Crew SC are harder to pin down. It almost seems like disinterest. The pieces are mostly the same, but the sharpness is lacking. I'm not sure how to fix that while the Sounders are getting healthy again. That will be the decider.
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Seattle Sounders will have the advantage of returning home with potentially two of its most talented offensive elements returning to the lineup in Nelson Valdez and Clint Dempsey, so couple a raucous fan environment with that and the 2-4-1 record should not be taken at face value. Columbus may well be starting a rookie at left central defensive midfielder alongside Wil Trapp in Rodrigo Saravia, so that could be a weak spot if he struggles at all. Justin Meram and Waylon Francis both had excellent performances on that side last week so that should help Saravia ease in. The turf wasn't kind to Crew SC when they played the Impact in Montreal, but the preparation and a two-game winning streak should have Columbus playing more confidently. I don't see a clean sheet from Steve Clark, and it wouldn't shock me at all if Jordan Morris scores again. Ethan Finlay should return to form, although he admittedly seems to have better games when Harrison Afful is more precise with his crosses in to help Finlay's efforts. I think Kamara gets at least one of the Crew SC goals, also.
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Crew SC can't seem to get the offense going with seven goals in seven games. A struggling Seattle side is relying on the defense right now, allowing just 10 goals in seven matches. To me, that leads to a low-scoring affair. I think this game will look a lot like last week's match with the Houston Dynamo. Yes, the Sounders are at home where they typically come out and attack, but right now they're struggling and have gone to a counter-attacking style. Expect them to sit back, but be more deadly on the break than Houston. Bold prediction: Harrison Afful gets his first goal for the Black & Gold.
Columbus Crew SC 1 Seattle Sounders 1