Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew #2
OTF’s Stephen Mangat puts on his hazmat suit to give you the lowdown on the team you love to hate…
Phormio was an Athenian admiral during the Peloponnesian War who commanded several famous victories in the 420s B.C. Considered the first great admiral in human history, Phormio was immortalized in the Roman Terence’s second century B.C. play, Phormio. Though the play only received “59% fresh” on RottenTomatoes.com, it is notable for being the earliest recorded use of the Latin proverb “Fortune favors the bold” or, if you like, Fortes Fortuna adiuvat.
While lessons of the Peloponnesian War and the Roman stage are still applicable today, no one has told the Columbus Crew, for they have most certainly ignored Phormio’s most famous line. So, Fire fans, let’s take a look at this weekend’s very un-bold opponent, as it will certainly please the goddess Fortuna…
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
Robert Warzycha sets up his squad in a bog-standard 4-4-1-1, with the creator behind the striker supported by two defensive midfielders. Nothing special at all here, and it makes one wonder about Warzycha’s ambitions. His team is nowhere near close to winning the MLS Cup, and the final playoff spot is probably the best they can do.
So, faced with a barely mediocre team without long-term prospects, Warzycha should be trying everything and anything to get an advantage on the competition. Whether a different formation (3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2 perhaps?) or a different style (full-field press or Zdenek Zeman kamikaze-style attack), the Crew’s best chance for success comes not from their players, but from coaching. Though it matters not. The Crew will most certainly run onto the pitch in one of the most vanilla of all formations.
Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (nicknamed “the Hebrew Hammer”) is a very solid (and typical) MLS goalie. He’s big, makes tough saves, and is pretty damn good. He’s one of a half-dozen goalies who are a USMNT plane crash away from being called into a national team camp. He also “owns more than 500 DVDs” and must feel quite stupid, as DVDs will only be useful as coasters in a few years.
The good news for Columbus is center back Chad Marshall is back from injury. The bad news for Columbus is Glauber, the other starting center back, is done for the season after tearing his ACL in the U.S. Open Cup match vs. the Fire.
Joining Marshall, MLS Defender of the Year for 2008 and 2009, will be Josh Williams (who is also just back from injury), Chad Barson on the right, and Tyson Wahl on the left. This is a big and physical group (Barson is 5’10” but the others are at least 6’2″), yet they’re not the fastest.
Eddie Gaven is done for the season with a knee injury, which leaves the Columbus midfield without much attacking threat or thrust.
Argentinian youth international and Copa Libertadores winner Matias Sanchez is tidy in possession and hard-working without it.
Danny O’Rourke may join Sanchez in the middle and is a bit more tenacious, yet a bit less skillful than the ex-Estudiantes man.
Ben Speas will probably be on the left. The second-year man seems to have nailed down a spot in the starting lineup due to Gaven’s injury. Note: Speas was eaten up by Sheanon Williams and Sebastian Le Toux when Columbus came to Philly, due to a combo of high pressure from the Union and constantly being forced to defend and recover as a result of Williams’s and Le Toux’s attacking verve.
The other two midfielders who have seen significant time are Tony Tchani (big, strong, fast guy) and Justin Meram (nothing to say about him).
Finally, Agustin Viana is back from injury, though he’s yet to play for the first-team since recovering from a hamstring pull.
Former Fire man Dominic Oduro is who you thought he was: fast, dangerous, and streaky. Yet Oduro seems to be more effective for Columbus than he ever was for Chicago. Attacking midfielder Federico Higuain is the reason. Higuain’s smart passing provides Oduro with plenty of chances and puts him in positions to succeed.
Basically, Oduro needs more chances than the average striker, and he’s at his best when he has some space to make use of his speed. The closer Higuain receives the ball to Oduro and the opposing back line, the more dangerous the Columbus attack becomes.
The other main option up front is Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta, who lost the starting job to Oduro and has yet to match last year’s form when he scored nine goals in 18 games.
How can Chicago win?
Runner from midfield
In their two games vs. Columbus this season, Philadelphia caused the Crew problems with runners from the midfield. Whether over-the-top or on-the-floor, Philly got behind Columbus, or at least pinned them deep in their own territory throughout the match.
Frank Klopas is advised to push Patrick Nyarko a bit higher up the field, have one of the forwards make runs behind the defense, and be direct in attacking. It doesn’t have to be 100% pedal-to-the-metal route 1 stylee, just diagonal balls behind the defense in the air and through-balls between the defense on the ground.
Press the defense
Federico Higuain will find the ball and dictate parts of the game, but Columbus is a different team when he’s running the midfield as opposed to orchestrating the attack. The Crew’s defense didn’t have the ability to build from the back in the face of Philly’s pressing attackers, which resulted in Columbus playing long balls to Oduro, who couldn’t win them. The long balls meant Higuain was starved of the ball, and to get it he dropped deeper and deeper as the first half wore on.
Funnel Oduro to help
Philly’s defense is solid but not great, yet they had few problems with Dom Oduro. With one midfielder protecting the defense and the defenders working together, Oduro never could find space to get up to speed. Playing alone up top with Higuain feeding him, Oduro was too isolated and out-numbered to make much of an impact because Higuain’s service came from a bit too far away (see above).
So good luck, Chicago fans. This is a should win against a mediocre/bad opponent. As pour moi, the Union host NYRB on Saturday evening. Tune into the match on ESPN to see if I make the telecast.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat threw all of his shirts away years ago. Follow him @smangat12