Friday, June 11, 2004


A shot at the top

Columbus heads into tomorrow night's match with Kansas City just two points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. With the Fire playing the afternoon match at LA, the Crew will know before they take the field for warm-ups whether they can jump Chicago in the standings and take hold of the top spot 10 games into the MLS season. So, Greg, if the opportunity to get out front is there, do you trot out the safe XI that will try to gut out a result and keep the streak and run of good form alive or do you take a risk and attempt to seize control of the Eastern Conference race heading into the middle-third of the schedule?

The game plan against the Wizards:

* Use your home-field advantage. Being at home is an advantage in MLS, and not because of the crowd. A manager has at his disposal his entire roster (excluding those out due to injuries, cards, or call-ups) whereas the road team only travels 16 (2 of which are goalkeepers). With a short bench, Gansler has limited options for countering what Andrulis might do, either in the starting line-up or with situational substitutions, and the run of games (five in 14 days, including the last three on the road) is bound to take a toll on the "freshness" of the side.

* Man-and-sweep Wolff. No member of the Crew defense can effectively man-mark El Lobo Rabido, so he needs to be doubled. Marshall matches up with him and Fraser plays deeper to pick him up when he DOES get loose. Arnaud can be handled by Akwari sufficiently.

* Get Lagos involved. Denton's only job tomorrow night should be to keep track of Chris Klein and NOT get stuck upfield. When Klein presses his advantage against Denton, Manny needs to exploit the space behind him and receive the early ball so he can run at the backline (sort of like how Landon always get played into large areas of space to wreak havoc on the defense).

* Attack! Kansas City's major threat is Klein playing the early cross to Wolff so he can use his speed against the backline. Their central midfield is less-than-stunning (Walsh or Gomez paired with Zavagnin) and Gutierrez is a two-way winger (like Hejduk and Denton), so we can take control of the match by utilizing our talent in the midfield to create chances. Playing KMart out wide would allow him to pinch into the middle when we attack while providing enough defensive cover to keep Gutierrez from taking advantage of the gap on the flank when he does so. As I mentioned in my opinions on the Revolution match, Lagos is just more capable of going AT people and making use of his teammates than Martino at this point and thus should be slotted behind the strikers.

My First XI:

Prediction: Crew 2 Wizards 0
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