OBETZ, Ohio – Somewhere during their 25,000 miles of travel the past two months, the Crew lost “Big Mo.”
After the best start in team history (6-0-2), Columbus slowly dissolved into no more than an average team, capped by a 0-3-3 stretch that was fueled by a heavy schedule and lethargic play at times.
But “Big Mo” found his way home and made a triumphant return last week when the Crew broke out of a prolonged scoring slump with a 4-1 Champions League win over Joe Public in Trinidad, followed by a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday in the regular-season finale.
“Everybody is happy we scored the goals,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “That means we did something good on the field.”
Momentum might be with the Crew (14-8-8) again heading into the playoffs. There are concerns, however, starting with the season-ending right shoulder fracture suffered by goalkeeper William Hesmer against the Union.
Experienced backup Andy Gruenebaum will take over beginning with the first game of the conference semifinals Thursday at Colorado.
Although Gruenebaum did not play a minute in MLS this season, he started six Champions League games and the four US Open Cup matches, including the 2-1 loss in the final at Seattle in front of more than 36,000 fans.
“It definitely helps my confidence to play in a big game like that,” he said.
The Crew will also likely be without forward Emilio Renteria after he banged his knee Sunday. An x-ray Monday came back negative, but Warzycha said he not sure if he’ll risk his player.
“I don’t know if we are going to push him against Colorado,” Warzycha said. “If the game was Saturday or Sunday, probably yes. Thursday is questionable.”
For the past two seasons, the Crew proved the theory that momentum is important going into the postseason. In 2008, Columbus’ only loss in the final 11 games of the regular season was a meaningless game at New York after having clinched the Supporters’ Shield the week before.
The Crew opened the playoffs with a 1-1 tie at Kansas City before beating the Wizards 2-0 at Crew Stadium to close out the series. That was followed by a 2-1 home win over Chicago to claim the Eastern Conference and a 3-1 win over New York in the MLS Cup.
“You want to have that confidence and good feeling about your squad going into the playoffs,” midfielder Brian Carroll said.
Last year, the Crew again won the Supporters’ Shield, but lost three of the final four games by 1-0 scores heading into the postseason. They were then eliminated by Real Salt Lake, who won both legs of the conference semifinals, 1-0 and 3-2.
“What we learned from last year’s experience is you’ve got to play until the end,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We were up 2-0 at home [in game two], things were looking good. The team was flying high, then all of a sudden, you give up one or two goals and you can be out just like that. It’s that easy.”
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