Preview: Crew returns home to host Sounders FC
After a 4-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last week, the Crew will look to bounce back against Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio) in its return to Columbus. Still seven points out of a playoff spot, the Black & Gold need a win at this point in the season to keep postseason hope alive.
"You always look forward to home games, the chance to play in your stadium in front of your fans," veteran defender Chad Marshall said. "It's a game we need. We need three points. It's going to be tough, but we need to show up."
With points at a premium, the Crew is confident it can win without playmaker Federico Higuaín. The Argentine is serving the first game of a two-match suspension after picking up his fifth and sixth yellow cards of the season last week in Salt Lake.
Head Coach Robert Warzycha is relying on other attackers to pick up the slack against Seattle. The return of Bernardo Anor and Justin Meram from injury could be a solution in the final third.
"Other players will have to take on some responsibilities and do more, be more decisive," Warzycha explained. "We have people who can score goals, we're more than Pipa [Higuaín]. Hopefully we put ourselves in the position and create a lot of chances.
"I think the perfect example is Ryan Finley, he scored three goals in the Reserve game [on Tuesday]. Bernardo can score goals and so can Meram, so I'm looking forward to them stepping up."
Adding to the difficulty, the Sounders bring a potent offense to Columbus, including the recent high-profile acquisition of United States Men's National Team forward Clint Dempsey. Rather than just Dempsey, it's the supporting cast the Crew defense needs to monitor.
"They have a good midfield, not only Dempsey, not just [Osvaldo] Alonso," Warzycha said. "Eddie Johnson scored the only goal in the last game against Portland. They've got [Mario] Martinez, [Mauro] Rosales who are guys who can make things happen. They're very dangerous."
Added Marshall: "Their engine is in Alonso and Brad Evans, what those guys do in the midfield. We really have to match their runs and Rosales as well. It's going to be critical stopping those guys from linking to the front three.
"If we can win the midfield, we'll have a chance."
Five years after hoisting MLS Cup with the Crew, Sounders Head Coach Sigi Schmid returns to Columbus to battle his friends in Warzycha and Assistant Coach Mike Lapper.
For Warzycha and Lapper, beating their friend and former partner would make victory even sweeter.
"If you coach against your friends, you have to win," Warzycha admitted. "Obviously [Schmid] is a very good coach and he has a very good team, so it's going to be challenging for us. We're playing at home, I think if we play like we did against New York and Toronto, we have a very good chance to win."
For Lapper, who played under Schmid at UCLA and coached on his staff with the Crew, a friendly gathering with the Sounders' coaching staff is in order before the match.
"I'm probably going to have their whole staff over for a barbecue, feed them some drinks and see what information I can get," Lapper joked.
"When you coach against your friends, you always want to beat your friends," the Assistant Coach continued. "I'm sure Sigi would tell you the same. You always hear the cliché 'Every game is important.' Yeah, we want to win every game, but these have special incentive.
"You get bragging rights over your friends, especially when you only play them one time each year."