Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew
The Cowlumbus Poo head to Chicago for another important Eastern Conference match this Saturday night at Toyota Park. And really, they’re all important from here on out.
Columbus has looked good and picked up a boatload of points in the second half of the summer (most recently with a win on Wednesday vs. lowly Chivas). But summer’s over, so let’s take a look at the Crew and see what your Men in Red can expect…
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
The Crew’s season has really hinged on the arrival of Argentinian Federico Higuain (brother of Real Madrid striker Gonzalo), who immediately upon his arrival in Columbus assumed the role of chief play-maker and provided some breathing room for other players to thrive. In seven games (I’m not counting the one minute appearance vs. NYRB the other day), Higuain has three goals and six assists. Columbus picked up 16 out of a possible 21 points in those games. Prior to Higuain’s arrival, the Crew earned 29 points out of a possible 63. How important is he to the Yellow Bananas? You do the math.
Former Poland interational Robert Warzycha (hello Polonia Triangle!) coaches Columbus and he’ll set up the Crew in a pretty standard 4-4-1-1 formation. The aforementioned Higuain looks to find pockets of space between the opposition midfield and defense, and works the ball with the outside midfielders or the other forward.
It’s worth noting that Columbus is dangerous on set pieces, as Higuain’s service combines well with the team’s size. Defenders Chad Marshall (6’4″) and Josh Williams (6’2″) provide big targets as does midfielder Tony Tchani (6’4″). Higuain also has the skill to play dead balls that find the more average-sized players, so Chicago needs to be focused on free kicks and corners.
Soccer by Ives named Andy Gruenebaum MLS’s best goalkeeper for the first half of 2012. He’s rock-solid and has made more than his share of fantastic saves this year. The Fire will get nothing free from this guy and he could steal the show if Chicago isn’t sharp with its finishing.
The Columbus defense was one of the league’s best in the first half of the year, though they’ve not been as reliable in the second half. That said, they’re scoring more goals and attacking frequently, so the defense is bound to give up a bit more now. In Chad Marshall they have one of the league’s best central defenders. Pairing with Marshall is Julius James, while Josh Williams and Sebastian Miranda are the full backs. Gotta be honest, don’t have much to say about the latter three.
It’s pretty simple for the Crew: solidity in the middle, speed and skill on the outside. Hard working Danny O’Rourke is in the middle with the confusingly-named Milovan Mirosevic (he’s Chilean). Beard-man Eddie Gaven and “Silly” Dilly Duka are on the outsides.
Fire Fans have seen O’Rourke plenty of times this season. He goes by Brian Carroll when in Philly, Terry Dunfield in Toronto, and Logan Pause when he’s in Chicago, and that’s just to name a few of his alter egos. O’Rourke is a hard-working ball-winner who passes neatly, if a bit unimaginatively.
Mirosevic has a reputation for creative play and scoring ability, but it hasn’t quite happened yet during his first year with Columbus. In fact, Tony Tchani has made a case that he should be in Mirosevic’s place, but he’ll probably come off the bench. In particular, Tchani’s size and speed make a difference against tired legs.
Eddie Gaven is the same guy he’s always been during his ten-year career. He’s a good dribbler and can create and convert chances. But, the bearded one will disappear for long stretches like a hobo should. Gaven is one of the main beneficiaries of Higuain’s arrival as he no longer needs to shoulder the creative burden, which is perfect for him. For all his talents, Gaven has never been able to really lead a team, something predicted at the beginning of his career when he made his debut with RBNY at 16 years old.
Dilly Duka (that’s seriously his name) is a former youth national teamer who provides speed and runs for Higuain’s passes. Though not nearly as tricky as Gaven, Duka’s still a danger as he’s more direct than Gaven. Emiliano Renteria is also seen on the outside and is pretty similar to Duka, though he’s stronger and faster. In fact, I’ve never been all that impressed with Duka. Renteria however is a beast of a man. Against Philly for the past two years, he’s been like a runaway train in the open field.
Despite his small stature (5’9″, 150), Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta is Columbus’s lone man up top. He’s a goalscorer who can create for himself and he’ll constantly make runs and look to get on the end of a Higuain pass. Higuain operates as a playmaker who drifts around looking for the ball and space. Although Arrieta hasn’t scored a ton of goals, these two are a pretty good one-two punch when it comes to creating chances for Columbus and problems for opponents.
What are Chicago’s tactical options for this should-win match?
Higuain’s tendency to drop into midfield causes Columbus to frequently have a three versus two situation in the center of the pitch, which allows them to win the possession battle and launch quick attacks from turnovers. The return of Pavel Pardo will certainly help Chicago keep the ball, but whoever partners with him will have their hands full. So what are Frank Klopas’s options?
Option #1 – Chris Rolfe drifts back into the midfield. Basically, Klopas has Rolfe play Higuain’s role and Chicago sets up a bit more like Columbus. Unfortunately, Rolfe is more of a shooter/scorer than a playmaker. Plus, Chicago should dictate this game. Altering their tactics to fit the Crew’s formation isn’t a great idea.
Option #2 – Press from the top. Have MacDonald and the outside midfielders press the Columbus backs with Rolfe closing down the space between the Crew defenders and midfielders. Basically, don’t allow Columbus to establish possession and reduce them to playing long, which plays into Chicago’s hands. Win the game with a combo of quick counters off turnovers and wearing down Columbus with pressure and possession.
Option #3 – Play like usual. Important questions: How fit is Logan Pause? How much tackling and tracking can/will Pavel Pardo do? Will the Chicago outside forwards/midfielders consistently get up and down the field? Will the center backs work together intelligently to track Higuain? These are all questions that need answering if Chicago plays in its usual setup.
Whatever Frank Klopas chooses to do, this game is going to be tricky since the Crew’s shape and personnel present matchup issues for the Fire.
- If Klopas takes a proactive approach, Chicago could be hit on the counter thanks to savvy play by Arrieta, Higuain, Mirosevic, and Gavin.
- If Klopas sits back and tries to counter, Columbus could easily dominate the run of play and Chicago could spend the match on their heels.
- If Klopas changes nothing, then everyone needs to be in top form for the Fire to win.
This certainly sounds like an interesting match and both teams need the points, so hopefully they’ll both go at it. So good luck to the Fire Nation! I’m off to enjoy (?) two Union matches this weekend: versus DeRo-less DC on Thursday and versus Houston on Sunday.
– On The Fire’s man in Philly Stephen Mangat has never found a good reason to go to Ohio.