Preview: Black & Gold travel to Houston for Eastern Conference tilt
After back-to-back heartbreaking losses, the Crew looks to regain its footing in the battle for an MLS Cup Playoff spot as it travels to Houston for a Saturday tilt with the Dynamo (9:00 p.m. ET / NBC Sports Network Breakway Coverage). A full 90-plus minutes of focus will be crucial if the Black & Gold hopes to leave the Lone Star State with a point or three in-hand.
"We're a team," forward/midfielder Dominic Oduro said of the team's recent losses. "We're hurt right now. When you're hurt, you try as much as possible to go out there and get as many points as you can. That's what we're going to do as a team. We have to go out and get the points.
"We need to stay focused the whole time. That's something we haven't done in our previous games. We have to get back on track."
Though the Crew has an overall record of 4-2-9 against the Dynamo, the last three meetings with the back-to-back Eastern Conference champions have resulted in draws. Most recently, Columbus and Houston battled to a 1-1 draw at Crew Stadium on June 1.
"I think it's been a little bit of a rivalry for us for a long time," Head Coach Robert Warzycha said. "They're a good team and you always want to measure yourself with the best teams. I think we both play similar soccer and that's why the games are attractive."
BUILT FOR SET PIECES
One of the similarities in the Crew and Dynamo's games is the teams' abilities on set pieces. With the two sides' previous history, dead-ball execution will be key on both ends of the field for the Black & Gold.
"Set pieces are important in every single game. You've got to get free kicks in the right spots and obviously with the other things, you have to feel it," Warzycha said.
"Both teams have guys that can serve in a great ball with [Houston midfielder Brad] Davis and obviously we have Pipa [Higuaín]," rookie forward Ryan Finley noted. "Both teams have some big targets. It's something we'll look at: how they run their corners and set pieces and I'm sure they'll do the same with us.
"Hopefully we can take one [goal] off set pieces and keep them at zero. Obviously that would be a huge advantage for us."
Since losing Eddie Gaven for the season with a torn left ACL on May 29, the Crew has seen its chances from set pieces noticeably diminish. Though he hasn't played in the last 11 matches, Gaven still leads the team in fouls suffered with 38 on the season.
Through the team's first 12 matches, Gaven accounted for just over 23-percent of the fouls drawn by Columbus and the Crew was averaging 13.8 fouls suffered per game. Since the veteran midfielder's season-ending injury, the Black & Gold have averaged just 9.45 fouls in the 11 games without Gaven.
The Crew has yet to find someone that is able to draw fouls in the attacking third in Gaven's absence.
"[Gaven's ability to draw fouls] is huge," Warzycha said. "He links all the formations. He's moving a lot and I think that's what we're missing right now."
When the Black & Gold do draw fouls near the penalty area, Dominic Oduro knows the team needs to be more proficient in finishing their chances from restarts.
"We have to get good service," Oduro explained. "Our guys have to be tall out there, try as much as possible to win the first ball in the air.
"That will be really critical because we know Houston is a good team with set pieces."