Crew Preview: How, And How Well, They’ll Defend

For all the frustrations of the past season – missing the playoffs again, struggling offensively at the wrong time, etc. – I thought the Columbus Crew fielded a pretty solid defense in 2007. It turns out, however, the 44 goals they surrendered tied them for sixth in goals-against; middle of the pack sounds all right, until one considers 49 goals allowed set the mark for league-worst (Go Toronto FC!). So…remind me again, what exactly went right last season?

I kid. Middle of the pack is middle of the pack, so things could have gone worse. But with the Crew opening 2008 with one high-profile departure from the defense, the possibility things could go worse this year lurks. Marcos Gonzalez, rated by a solid majority as the Crew’s best defender, returned in the off-season to his native Chile. His immediate replacement – Andy Iro – is a first-year pro, something to watch no matter how his resumé reads. A clutch of second-year pros – Ryan Junge, Jed Zayner, and Andrew Peterson – will vie with Iro for that opening in central defense, as might midfield players like Danny O’Rourke, if some reports are to be believed (can’t find said reports; you’ll have to take my word for it…or just not believe me).

Given all that, how will the Crew’s defense fare in 2008? By way of an answer, I’ve named the players on the roster whose first job amounts to either defending the Crew’s goal directly or breaking up the opposition’s forays in midfield. I confess I’m not totally up-to-date on how Sigi Schmid will line up his team – and that’s whether in terms of formation or personnel – as such, what unfolds below amounts to a best guess as to what Schmid will do and the quality he has at his disposal. Continue reading

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Columbus Crew 2007 Review: Mid-Summer Mirage

Columbus Crew
Record (W-L-T): 9-11-10; 39 GF; 44 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Streaks are part of the game. They happen for a lot of reasons – a missing player, bad vibes begetting more bad vibes, etc. And it’s worth suggesting upfront that “bad vibes” seem to have a special attachment to the Columbus Crew, a team that with 2007 missed its third consecutive Major League Soccer (MLS) post-season. Still, for a couple mid-summer months, the Columbus had good reason to believe they would break this jinx.

That brings the discussion back to streaks: Columbus experienced something closer “spells” in 2007. For two happy months – June and July, as it happened – the Crew rose to within one point of DC United for the Eastern Conference lead. Had the players looked down from that mid-summer peak – a little Midwestern Eden, if you will – they would have sighted two blighted valleys extending on either side, where bitter losses followed throw-away draws. Consider this: after picking up a gutsy, “hell-of-a” draw against the New England Revolution on June 16, the Crew went 4-1-1 – that could be 5-1-1 if you count the win over Toronto FC after the All-Star Break. Before this happy period, however, they cooked up a stinking 1-4-6. After, they passed a messy and painful 1-6-3, before wrapping up the season with two useless wins (over good teams…go figure).

Call it a what-the-hell kind of mystery – and, here, memory plays a role. It seemed like a lot of talk during the late summer slump rested on the view that all hope centered on a healthy Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Apparently, such stories grew larger than reality because a review of the record shows Schelotto missed only the month of September. While that certainly didn’t help, it’s worth pointing out that the Argentine played every game in the Crew’s crappy August. Continue reading