Columbus Crew (11-5-4, 37 pts, first in the Eastern Conference) vs. Colorado Rapids (7-5-7, 28 pts, 4th in the Western Conference)
All-time record: Colorado leads the series 14-9-8.
7:30 p.m. ET; MLS Direct Kick, Matchday Live
The Crew are coming off an embarrassing 2-0 loss at Real Salt Lake after which coach Robert Warzycha said the team played “scared” because five regulars were out. For a team that prides itself on having a deep bench that’s an ominous sign since injury problems have the Crew down to 20 healthy bodies.
Colorado tied Philadelphia 1-1 last week, another frustrating result in a 1-2-6 stretch since beating the Crew 1-0 on June 5 in Commerce City. However they did get striker Conor Casey back from injury, as the Rapids' leading scorer subbed on in the second half.
Even though these two side are charter members of MLS, they have little history or rivalry: no playoff or U.S. Open Cup meetings, few memorable moments. However, in their last meeting, won by Drew Moor's 85th-minute goal off a corner kick, the Rapids played the final 14 minutes down a man after Pablo Mastroeni was ejected following a scuffle with Steven Lenhart. So perhaps there is some lingering animosity.
Fatigue and availability are the major factors facing the Crew right now. Their defeat of Municipal, 1-0, on Wednesday in a CONCACAF Champions League match included all their regular starters except goalkeeper William Hesmer and Brian Carroll.
Eddie Gaven returned from a concussion and Andy Iro played after sitting a game with a sore knee. Carroll may be available Saturday following a stomach virus that kept him out the past two matches.
Peruvian midfielder Andres Mendoza is still waiting international clearance to be eligible and the Crew are negotiating with draft pick Kwaku Nyamekye to fill the 24th spot. “Who knew we would be missing so many players last week?” coach Robert Warzycha said.
The big news around Dick's Sporting Goods Park is the return of Conor Casey and the recent reports that the Rapids have turned down an offer from Mexican club Necaxa for Casey's strike partner, Omar Cummings. Deemed too valuable, Cummings has had a second consecutive strong season, scoring five goals so far. However, he has not posted a single assist, something that he excelled at last year.
Casey's return gives coach Gary Smith one of the biggest targets in MLS, a striker with seven goals to his name already, and someone who can battle with the Crew's tall centerbacks. But Smith is also happy to have his ball skills available. "He is our most clinical forward,” the coach said this week.
Colorado will again be without regular left midfielder Colin Clark, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in his left knee last week. But the midfield has been in form lately, with the Jeff Larentowicz-Pablo Mastroeni midfield pairing showing cohesion and grit in the center of the park.
Heroes & Villains
Chad Marshall vs. Conor Casey: The Crew’s All-Star defender could be challenged by Casey. The striker returned to the field against Philadelphia in a reserve role last week after missing two games with a concussion. The Rapids dearly missed his production during their recent struggles for three points.
Stat that makes you go “Hmm...”
The Rapids have conceded one goal in the last 15 minutes of games, the fewest of any team.
Keys to the Game
- Tighten the midfield and keep possession under pressure.
- Get Guillermo Barros Schelotto engaged early. Too often the team waits for his magic on restarts and looks stagnant in the run of play.
- Keep the aforementioned Schelotto under wraps and clog the middle to frustrate the Crew as in the last meeting.
- Continue trend of not conceding late goals against a team that leads MLS with nine in the final 15 minutes.
OUT: MF Robbie Rogers (L knee cyst); DOUBTFUL: MF Brian Carroll (illness); DF Gino Padula (L knee inflammation); PROBABLE: MF Eddie Gaven (concussion); DF Andy Iro (R knee inflammation)Colorado
OUT: MF Colin Clark (L knee ACL tear); MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)