After starting off the season with a perfect 4-0 record (despite less than stellar performances on the field), the Impact were dominated by SKC in a 2-0 loss (could have easily been 6-0). Now, after a bye thanks the LA Galaxy's Champions' league schedule, Coach Marco's boys need to put in a great 90 minute performance to show their fans and the rest of the MLS that this squad really does belong among the league's elite.
Enter the Columbus Crew.
To get you ready for this game, we called on the services of our friend AJ from the Around the League Podcast (Follow the podcast on Twitter: @AtlCSRN and download it every Tuesday!) to give us some info on this week's enemy!
After 5 games, Columbus sits 4th in the Eastern Conference with a very respectable 2-1-2 record. Who has been a pleasant surprise for your squad? Who has been a disappointment? Why?
The biggest surprise so far this season has been the play of Ben Speas. Speas is a homegrown talent who was inserted into the lineup because of an injury to Eddie Gaven. He has played so well that they moved Gaven to the right side of the midfield and even benched Jairo Arrieta to keep him on the pitch. As a left midfielder, he has been taking players on and using his speed to create crosses but he can also turn inside and fire off a decent shot. Crew fans are very excited to see his progression this year.
The most disappointing player is a bit harder to nail down. The defense has yet to live up to the expectations of Crew fans. Moving Josh Williams to right back plus adding Glauber and Tyson Wahl meant that the backline would have to learn how to play together but multiple mistakes have already cost the Crew 7 points this season. With two defensive midfielders worked into the formation, these mental lapses and coverage breakdowns were not expected. Glauber came in with a great reputation but has been directly at fault for two goals that frankly were not acceptable. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to MLS and the Crew backline as the year goes on.
Federico Higuain & Jairo Arrieta took the MLS by storm when they joined the Crew last year. Higuain had 5 goals and 7 assists in 13 games (11 starts). Arrieta had 9 goals and 4 assists in 18 games. This year, their production is way off last year's pace (Higuain has 1G & 1A in 5 games while Arrieta has 1G & 1A in 4 games). Any reason for the decline?
I think the difference between the performance of Arrieta and Higuain from last year to this year is the fact that defenses have learned how to play against them. Even though Arrieta will battle and fight for every ball, he is a small player that cannot match up physically with most of the defenders in this league. Defenses have started to hold and beat on him which is having an effect on his goal-tally. Arrieta is also an automatic call up for Costa Rica, which meant he missed the DC game and will miss multiple games throughout the year. When he gets free and finds space to run however, he is as dangerous as any striker in the league. Higuain's performance dip is a little more complicated but is mainly due to the new system and the attacking performance of the other midfielders. With only one striker to serve balls to and the freedom to roam anywhere on the pitch at any time, Higuain relies on Gaven, Speas and Oduro to find space and make good attacking runs but this has not happened so far this year. Most of the Crew goals have come from set-piece opportunities which, for the most part, come off of Higuain's foot but we have yet to see the offense really take off in the run of play. Do not be surprised to see a change in this system to rectify that problem soon as we might see Oduro start to line up beside Arrieta in a 4-4-2 formation.
Former Impact player Tyson Wahl joined the Crew in the offseason. How has his play been so far this season? What is expected of him this year?
Tyson Wahl has been a solid defender for the Crew so far this season. There are some question marks about his ability to get up and down the wings and into the attack which is important in the way that Robert Warzycha wants to play but, defensively, he has been one of the bright spots. We have seen his left foot become an important part of set pieces as he set up a Josh Williams' goal that helped the Crew beat DC United away from home. That aspect of his game will compliment Higuain's right-footed ability. Right now there is nobody challenging him for his position but, in this attacking system, he will need to prove that he can play on both sides of the ball or a healthy Bernardo Anor could become a threat to his playing time.
Starting XI (with formation):
Williams, Marshall, Glauber, Wahl
Oduro, Gaven, Higuain, Speas
Predicted final score:
1-1. I expect the Crew to sit back, defend and probably let in a goal in the first half, but I feel they have too many offensive options to be shut out. The Crew would be elated with an away point from a very good Montreal squad.