Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew

Crew winless in last five matches

Guest columnist Drew Epperley is the founder and editor of WVHooligan.com. His blog covers everything MLS and U.S. Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @WVHooligan.

Saturday marks the third match in seven days for FC Dallas (3-5-3, 12 points). Schellas Hyndman’s club hits the road to face their Pioneer Cup rivals, the Columbus Crew (2-4-2, 8 points).

Columbus is coming off a scoreless road draw in Portland last weekend.

Dallas and Columbus have split several of their last meetings with one another. Last season Dallas made the trip to the Buckeye State in April and was defeated 2-0. In the return leg at home, Dallas settled the score with their own 2-0 win.

Crew struggling in the attack

One thing Robert Warzycha’s side had struggled with this season is finding the back of the net. Currently the Crew have scored six goals – good for 16th best in the league.

Eddie Gaven leads the way with two goals. The veteran right winger can play all over the midfield and has really given the Crew their own bit of offense this season.

Emilio Renteria is the main focal point of the Columbus attack. The 27-year old has appeared in every game so far for the Crew this season – he is tied for second place on the team with six shots on goal. Renteria does a solid job at putting himself into position to score but has failed to do so this season.

His strike partner has been newcomer Olman Vargas. The Costa Rican is a big, physical type player that is dangerous in the air. It’s possible he won’t be able to go on Saturday as he has been dealing with a hamstring injury as of late.

With Vargas questionable, Warzycha will likely turn to rookie forward Ethan Finlay. The Duke product has shown well early this season – appearing in all eight matches for the Crew.

Another new face in the attack is Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic. The 31-year old has one goal to his name already this season and leads the club with shots. Expect him to sit behind Renteria and Finlay in the attacking midfield role.

Just like Dallas, the Crew have been dealing with injuries to their attacking core. Warzycha may have Dilly Duka back for this one but he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury this season while Tommy Heinemann is out due to knee surgery.

Marshall’s absence could be problematic

When you think of the Columbus Crew, one name that always comes to mind is Chad Marshall. But lately the captain has been dealing with concussion issues and could be sitting this one out on Saturday.

That news is not good for Crew fans as his backups Carlos Mendes and Julius James are also doubtful. Against Portland the Crew turned to Josh Williams and Eric Gehrig.

The two young defenders faired well in Portland and were the catalyst that helped the Crew win the 2011 MLS Reserve League East Division.

Williams has shown he can get forward into the attack on set pieces as well.

At right fullback will be Sebastian Miranda with Shaun Francis on the left. Danny O’Rouke will sit in front of the defense in the holding midfield role. Warzycha can also turn to Toni Tchani to play in this role as well.

This past Monday, the Crew announced the signing of former LA Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall. The Trinidad and Tobago international hasn’t played a game since MLS Cup last fall but is available for immediate selection for the Crew.

Will Hesmer has typically been the first string keeper for the Crew over the last few seasons but he is out due to surgery on his hip. In his place this season has been long-time back up Andy Gruenebaum. Against Portland, Gruenebaum made seven saves – he currently has 30 on the season.

Keys to three points

Columbus has struggled at the possession game this season but will be coming off a normal week’s worth of rest. Dallas on the other hand will be playing its third game of the week.

Columbus created a few scoring chances in their last couple games but have really failed to make a dent in the back of the net. Renteria and Finlay are both dangerous players while Mirosevic has shown to be a handful to deal with this season.

The Crew are thin in the back and a rested Blas Perez should find plenty of room to be dangerous.

Dallas will need to play the possession game and spread out the Crew. Warzycha likes to use a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield – the kind of formation leaves open spaces on the wings for Dallas to exploit.