Matt Pickens has been consistent, if not spectacular, in 2010. With a 1.10 goals-against average and seven shutouts on the year, he is easily in the top half of 'keepers in the league. One of the two times he allowed more than two goals in a game this year came in a 3-1 loss to the Crew.
|William Hesmer is out and Andy Gruenebaum is in, which conjures up images of Danny Cepero’s free kick bouncing into the back of the net at Giants Stadium. Like Pickens, Gruenebaum is solid if not spectacular. Last season for the Crew, he posted a 4-2-4 record with a 1.20 GAA, but he played no minutes in the regular season this year.|
Getting Julien Baudet back on defense helps the Rapids’ cause, especially against bruising striker Steven Lenhart. Marvell Wynne is a speedster, and should be able to cope with Robbie Rogers’ pace. That said, the Rapids are prone to mental lapses. They did not record a single shutout down the stretch.
|The Crew’s defensive performance has steadily declined this season as their schedule became congested. After conceding just 20 goals in their first 22 games, they allowed 14 in the eight games that followed. With the Conor Casey-Omar Cummings connection coming to town and a backup ‘keeper in goal, Columbus could be in big trouble.|
Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz and Brian Mullan have plenty of experience in the postseason. With players around them to stretch the field vertically, the trio of veterans should have plenty of space in which to operate. And if it becomes a knock-down, drag-out battle, Mastroeni can scrap with the best of them.
|Rogers is a handful down the left flank, while Eddie Gaven has some wheels on the right. With Mastroeni and Larentowicz capable of dominating Brian Carroll and whomever Robert Warzycha lines up next to him, it remains a question whether or not the flankers will see much of the ball.|
The Rapids striker corps has proven time and again that they can score on anyone. Colorado scored 11 goals in their five last games. Cummings and Casey combined for 27 goals this season, and Macoumba Kandji remains a player with pace and strength to run down defenders.
|Guillermo Barros Schelotto is Columbus’ talisman, but age may be starting to catch up with him. The diminutive Argentine playmaker needs every bit of Lenhart’s aerial ability if his typically good service is to be rewarded. Jason Garey could provide a late boost of energy.|
Gary Smith faces a difficult test of his abilities: In his first foray into the playoffs, just five days after Colorado lost the Rocky Mountain Cup in a heart-breaking late draw with RSL, he has to make sure his Rapids perform against the Crew. Smith said that he would be “absolutely gobsmacked” if they weren’t able to do it.
Warzycha has presided over two late season drop-offs in the Crew’s performance. With a crazy schedule to end the season, his team has suffered, but he has given them as much rest as possible lately. And there’s no way he repeats the mistake of 2009: resting GBS in the first leg.
In the unlikely event that Cummings, Casey and Kandji prove ineffective, Smith still has plenty of options. Wells Thompson can also provide a midfield spark off the bench, and is never afraid to make a tackle if the game gets rough. There is also World Cup vet Claudio Lopez and rookie Andre Akpan who could come on to provide a different look.
|Andrés Mendoza will probably start on the bench, but the Peruvian is capable of changing a game. He inscribed his name into Columbus lore by scoring a late goal to seal the game against Santos Laguna in the Champions League. And Garey is always willing to work to help the team.|
|The Rapids have not been to the playoffs since 2006, but the squad they have assembled is blessed with attacking talent and defensive grit. In other words, a team built for the playoffs. Can they put it all together?|
|The great Crew team of 2008 has aged, and although still formidable on their day, the Crew lack the attacking punch that led them to the Cup two years ago. Their experience is a benefit, their age a detriment.|