Monday, September 06, 2004


Beast of the East

The Crew FINALLY climb the last rung on the mountain and take over possession of the top spot in the East with a 3-1 victory over a Galaxy side that has clearly hit the wall in the league schedule. Columbus has now moved its unbeaten streak to 11 games and head out to San Jose for a mid-week tilt against an Earthquakes side missing its top three strikers (Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, and Dwayne DeRosario) and backstop (Pat Onstad) to national team duty. The recap:

* Textbook work by Paule. Ross Paule's three-goal outburst came as a result of playing his position to perfection and padding the total from the spot (hey, if Guevara and Ruiz can boast of their strike rate through PKs, so can Paule). Both goals from the run of play came with Paule trailing the strikers and cleaning up deflections or poor clearances. This is what has been lacking out of Kyle Martino in his three years with the Crew, the tenacity and ambition to get in the box and score the easy goals that come when the ball doesn't get to McBride or Buddle or Cunningham. Donovan can get away with running at people and scoring with his shooting because he has that talent. Guevara can score via the free kick, the PK, and the bomb and brings a different dimension to the position. Paule has been rejuvenated with the addition of playmaking responsibilities and set-piece opportunities. KMart should watch the tape of this game and focus on Ross' workrate and his ability to be unobtrusive yet deadly.

* We are gelling. Our team has become a very powerful force in the league by sticking to a system that all have bought into and and by being a set of replaceable parts. The defense was set early in the season. The midfield came around about the middle of July, when Martino was moved up top to partner with Buddle. The forwards are still a work-in-progress, but...

* Fozzie is working on it! The substitutions last night show me that Andrulis now believes enough in his back nine to begin work on developing a strike pair that will be dangerous as the playoffs begin, for we will NOT win the Cup without getting some contribution out of our forwards. With a 2-1 lead, Greg brought on Cunningham for Martino and later Ritch for Buddle in an effort to get a third goal and to see what combinations might work to perk up a sluggish frontline. I wouldn't be surprised to see another forward pairing on Wednesday in San Jose, where the narrow field benefit strikers who can attack with the ball.

So the monkey is off our back and we at last control our playoff destiny. Three points on Wednesday will give us a LITTLE breathing room heading in to the final month (a four-point lead as opposed to one or two) and would bring Supporters' Shield talk to Crew Stadium. But for now, let's enjoy this one, for we have come a LONG way since our first game against LA (a 2-0 thrashing that wasn't even THAT close and sent us to 0-3 to start the season) and are on the upswing while the glamour clubs (the Metrostars and Galaxy) are sliding away from the top of the table.

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