Defeat in Toluca had Crew feeling game-ready

Champions League loss not all negative as club opens new season

Lenhart, Crew

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As it turned out, the Crew had more than home field going
for them when the two-time defending Supporters’ Shield winners opened the
season Saturday against Toronto FC with a 2-0 victory [CLICK HERE TO WATCH HIGHLIGHTS].

To hear the Crew players talk afterward one would have
thought that they, not Toluca, had advanced out of their recent Champions
League quarterfinal series.

Apparently, there are moral victories to be extrapolated
from a home draw and a 3-2 defeat on Mexican soil for the Crew.

“It definitely helps anytime you can start before the (MLS)
season with some meaningful games that are going to challenge you in the way
those games are going to challenge you,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “You
get that experience, you gain that confidence that I think we gained in those
two games.”

He has a point, as did forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

“We had two very hard games with Toluca. Maybe that put us
in a good position,” Schelotto said.

Losing any games is tough for an organization that mostly
won in 2008-09, but giving a decent Mexican Primera Division side a battle for
180 minutes strengthened the Crew and allowed coach Robert Warzycha to forego
any experimentation for the league opener.

For example, he knew—based on the pace of the Toluca series
and the Crew’s training—that new forward Sergio Herrera is nowhere near ready
to contribute.

Warzycha also saw that central midfielder Adam Moffat has
put his injuries behind him, for now, and that defender Danny O’Rourke (no
goals in 130 MLS matches) actually knows where the final third is and is not
afraid to go there occasionally.

O’Rourke replaced Gino Padula in Toluca and set up the
second goal with a confident run down the left side that enabled him to deliver
a pass from the end line. Steven Lenhart headed the ball off the post and Schelotto
put in the rebound.

Padula was on the bench again Saturday, and O’Rourke had
another foray to the box that resulted in a goal by Schelotto to complement
defender Andy Iro’s earlier score.

“We played two really, really good games against Toluca,” Iro
said. “The guys are really confident. We know how we want to play. We know what
we want to accomplish this season.”

As much as the Crew is championing the Champions League
experience, that praise could turn cursive by the end of the season when they
are forced to play six group-stage games in two months for the 2010 tournament.

Crew are kicking themselves—or, in the case of Lenhart, probably a defender—for
only scoring a pair against TFC despite numerous quality chances.

Yet the team is off to a much better start than last season
when it had a single score in each of the first five games to go 0-2-3.

The Crew were 9-0-2 in the 2009 regular season when scoring
twice or more. Of course, it lost 3-2 to Real Salt Lake in the second game of
the conference semifinals, but that was a different animal because even with
the score tied at 2-2, the Crew trailed the aggregate series by a goal.

Crew would love to bank their two bye weeks in April for when they could really
use the rest later in the season, but this weekend was left open in case the
Crew was in the semifinals of the Champions League, which features games on Tuesday and
April 7.

Having just two games in four weeks presents problems for
Warzycha that a lot of coaches would like. Most would spend the time tinkering
with the starting lineup and trying to find the right chemistry.

Warzycha, however, has to figure how to keep a deep roster active. For
example, if Padula—who entered in the 89th minute Saturday—doesn’t start the
next match at FC Dallas on April 10, the regular left back for the past two
seasons won’t get another chance until April 24 vs. Real Salt Lake.

To keep the players somewhat game-ready, the Crew will play
exhibitions at Crew Stadium on Friday against Marshall at 10 a.m. and Michigan
State at noon. The games are free and open to the public.