COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first of two bye weeks this month is in the books, and the Crew are ready to take their show on the road for the first time Saturday at FC Dallas. Here are a few talking points as the Crew prepares for the Hunt family reunion in Pizza Hut Park.
Looking up: Oh, no. The Supporters’ Shield winner the past two seasons has already dropped three points behind East leader New York. The Red Bulls won at Seattle while the Crew sat home and ate the ears off chocolate bunnies and watched the Final Four.
Of course, chasing the top spot is nothing new for the Crew. Remember last season? They were tied for last in the conference after eight games with a 1-2-5 record.
The Crew didn’t get into first until beating Toronto FC on July 25 in the 19th game of the season, then put a death grip on it. There’s no reason to think the Black and Gold won’t be there again at the end of the season.
3D: Having a deep backline comes in handy, especially when five of eight defenders will be watched closely this week because of injuries.
The latest aggrieved is Eric Brunner, who took a knock to the head in a scrimmage against Marshall on Friday and could miss a few days of practice as a cautionary move.
Frankie Hejduk (groin) took it easy last week but should be ready Saturday. Likewise for Chad Marshall—the two-time MLS Defender of the Year missed the first game with a strained right hamstring.
Jed Zayner (right knee) could resume full training this week but is doubtful for this weekend and rookie Shaun Francis (left ankle) is probably a month away from rejoining training.
The key is that the Crew have another open weekend April 17-18, so there’s no need to rush any of them.
On trial: French midfielder Leandre Griffit, 25, put on a display vs. Marshall (the university, not the defender) with a goal and an assist. As soon as he started running at the defense with the ball, he caught the attention of the Crew brass.
Griffit even did a spin-a-rama move around a poor Thundering Herd defender long the sideline in front of Crew president Mark McCullers and technical director Brian Bliss.
Of course, nuking college kids on spring break is a little different than trying those moves against the big boys.
Also, there may be a Nigerian striker in Crew camp this week. Any signing would take place this summer.
Road Crew: It will be interesting to see who makes the first road trip. Will rookie midfielder Dilly Duka be part of the 18-man travel squad? Would first-year midfielder Othaniel Yanez go? What about longest-tenured Crew midfielder Duncan Oughton?
Of course, a lot depends on the injury situation. If any more players go down, coach Robert Warzycha won’t have to tell anyone that he is staying home.
Saved by zero: The past six Crew regular-season matches, and seven of eight including playoffs, have involved a clean sheet since Columbus beat Los Angeles 2-0 on Sept. 26.
That was followed by four straight 1-0 scores, three of them losses, heading into the postseason. The conference semifinal opener was another 1-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake followed by a 3-2 loss at home to the eventual MLS Cup champions. Of course, this season opened with another whitewash.
The last time the Crew and FC Dallas played was Aug. 15 in Columbus, with the home team winning 2-0. The Crew haven’t been shutout at Dallas since July 10, 2004. That match ended in a 0-0 draw in the Cotton Bowl vs. the Burn, the second of consecutive scoreless games in the series that year.