COLUMBUS, Ohio – One year ago, the Columbus Crew's current right back was playing in Chile, while one of their center backs was in the early stages of playing more minutes than any other defender on a team that finished with the worst record in the league.
Their current left back played his last collegiate match in November and their other central defender missed several weeks of the preseason, including two Champions League matches, because of concussion-like symptoms.
It’s not exactly the strategy most teams would use in rebuilding a back line, but after a rough season-opener (a 3-1 loss at D.C. United), the Crew have posted three straight shutouts to tie a team mark.
The latest was a 0-0 tie at Chivas USA last Saturday to give Columbus a 1-1-2 record.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Columbus 0, Chivas USA 0
Sebastian Miranda on the right, rookie Rich Balchan on the left and Julius James have joined Crew veteran Chad Marshall to present a formidable guard in front of goalkeeper William Hesmer.
“We’ve got three new guys in the back,” Hesmer said. “To have it already clicking is impressive. It goes a lot to our communication and our coaching staff. Collectively, we’ve done a whole lot better since the DC game in making it tough in the midfield, winning the ball in the right places, not giving it away in the bad places. We’ve made it a lot easier on ourselves.”
[inline_node:333461]James was the last piece, having been added in late March following his release by D.C. United, where he started 16 matches in 2010. He got the start against his former club as Andy Iro recovered from an injury and hasn’t yielded.
“I didn’t expect it to happen so soon,” James said of the defenders meshing. “I’ve said before that this is a really good team and we have a good technical staff. The training we do has helped us jell. ”
Balchan had been considered for the center spot alongside Marshall but a hamstring injury to left back Shaun Francis necessitated a move.
“He’s doing a great job transitioning to the pro game,” Hesmer said.
Coach Robert Warzycha spread the credit for not allowing a goal in 283 minutes – 90 minutes short of the Crew mark.
“When you talk about three shutouts you have to talk about team defending,” he said. “We are in the right spots. We are doing a good job on the one-on-ones. Our shape is pretty good. We have some new guys in the back and they’re stepping up. I don’t think the last three games Chivas, Dallas and New York had any clear chances.”
The Crew host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday trying to stop a dubious trend: In their previous three attempts for a fourth consecutive shutout, they lost 1-0 at New York in 2009, 2-1 at Chivas USA in 2007 and 3-1 at New England in 2005.
By the numbers
512: combined minutes without a goal in the run of play this season by the “true” forwards (Andres Mendoza has penalty kick).
849: minutes when midfielder/withdrawn forward Emmanuel Ekpo is added.
30: minutes (all against FC Dallas) played by forward Jeff Cunningham in the past three games since starting and going 61 minutes in the first match. He is still one goal away from tying the MLS career scoring mark of 133.
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