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

FCD Over Columbus: Good Day to Be Goodson

Other reports:
Columbus Dispatch 

Columbus Crew Offside
Dallas Morning News 
FC Dallas Updates

When two teams you, as a fan, like about equally play one another, the best you can hope for is a great game. Happily, the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas obliged (me, at least) this Saturday by turning in one of the games of 2007. Crisp and intelligent movement produced countless threatening moments for both sides, which makes it somewhat ironic that all but one of the games five goals came on set plays…and that goal was just weird…not ugly, just weird…

While casting this as a heavyweight bout runs to type, a middleweight contest better describes the far-from-plodding give-and-take of this game. Columbus came out flying, forcing Dallas on the back foot up to, and beyond the point when Marcos Gonzalez opened the scoring for the Crew. Dallas steadied itself and, bit by bit, met to the Crew’s intensity. Not too far into the second half, Dallas equalized when Arturo Alvarez ended a penalty-area melee with a goal so physically awkward that I’m still sorting out the physics (leaning over striking leg…which faces toward the goal…he scoops it across the goalmouth to the far post netting…with that kind of velocity?). It’s here where the game really lifted.

Just as Columbus starts wilting, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hejduk combine to conjure a penalty, which Andy Herron tucks away: 2-1 Columbus. Between the effort exerted and the broiling heat, it was hard to imagine Dallas pulling back one, never mind, two goals. But, incredibly, the pace of the game barely relented through the 20 minutes that followed, a period that ends, nearly simultaneously, with Dallas again leveling the score through Carlos Ruiz (remember him?) and getting reduced to ten men when Marcelo Saragosa got sent off.

With Dallas down to ten and a draw looking likely the Crew’s fatigue – a subtle thing until Schelotto’s legs couldn’t carry him to one more pass into space – suddenly became apparent. And as the game’s final ten minutes count down, with a draw still on the cards even with Dallas largely owning possession and aggression, what seemed like a series of corners end with Clarence Goodson – 2006’s Own-Goal King – slamming home the last-gasp winner.

That Goodson netted the winner wraps up this game nicely, because he’s a big part of why FC Dallas looks like a contender this year. Dallas’ backline has matured as a whole, but Goodson’s hitting full stride: his steady, smooth, at times even silky, defending at the back kept a very impressive Crew attack at bay till the sickening heat finished the job. And if you look across the back four, the same phenomenon applies, if to varying degrees. Better still, from Dallas’ point of view, is the depth in defense: when Adrian Serioux went down, Aaron Pitchkolan not only replaced him, but improved on his performance. If Drew Moor goes down, there’s Bobby Rhine – and Alex Yi is out there as well. But Goodson is the best of the bunch, the player who has found finally got past finding his feet and is now raising his game. And it’s not going unnoticed: if you lurk around FC Dallas sites, you’ll see this notion in some form or another.

But one man, or even one piece of the team, doesn’t make a contender: it’s the depth and versatility all over the field that makes this quite probably the best Dallas team I’ve ever seen. On Saturday, when Abe Thompson’s muscle didn’t work, Dallas coach Steve Morrow had both Dominic Oduro and Ricardinho to change up the pace and methods of attack. Even the most conspicuous absence – Juan Toja – amounted to very little thanks to a solid central pairing that matched Dax McCarty’s effusive energy and Pablo Richetti’s tenacity.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this game was the impression that any other team – and, possibly, any other conditions – and Columbus would have walked away with at least a point; all three wouldn’t have surprised me. The thing is, the Crew look good; put another way, I don’t think anyone wants to face them. But the fact that Dallas was better on the day says a lot.

Other observations: Continue reading