COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Crew defender Eric Gehrig had the best game of his short pro career last week in helping the Crew blank Toronto FC. But an even better effort will likely be needed Saturday at Crew Stadium against Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls (3 pm ET; Univision Deportes, watch LIVE online).
The Red Bulls (2-2-0) have scored 10 goals so far this season – the most in MLS – and nine of those have come in their last two games. The ringleader has been Henry, who has notched five goals in New York’s victories over Colorado (two) and Montreal (three).
Kenny Cooper, meanwhile, has four goals so far, one more than the Crew (2-1) have managed in their three games this season.
“We’ve got to build on team defending just like last week,” Gehrig (above) told MLSsoccer.com. “We did a good job of limiting Toronto’s chances but New York is a whole different animal.”
Gehrig will be in the middle of the fray, literally. The defender was thrust into the starting central defense alongside Chad Marshall hours before the Toronto match when Danny O’Rourke was pulled because of a bad knee.
“Honestly, during preseason I don’t think I got one look at center back because they had Carlos [Mendes] and a little bit of Danny,” Gehrig said. “Chad and I played together the Michigan State [exhibition] but that was it.”
Center back has become a Bermuda Triangle where Crew players enter but disappear: O’Rourke and Mendes (hamstring) will not dress Saturday and Julius James has been out the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery in November.
He suffered a setback Thursday when he was operated on for a collapsed lung. Crew president Mark McCullers said in a statement Friday that the timetable James’ return is unknown.
That’s why Gehrig, a 2011 signee from Loyola University of Chicago, has become invaluable. He was clearly Columbus’ best player vs. TFC as he marked tight, cleared efficiently and covered others’ mistakes.
“Saturday was a big game personally,” he said. “It was a big jump as far as making a name for myself and proving I can contribute in this league.”
The next test for him and the rest of the Crew is to not let the Red Bulls dictate the pace.
“It’s not our game to try and outscore and run-and-gun anybody,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “That’s not the way we’re built. I don’t think there’s any time we want to go into a game trying to outscore somebody 4-3 or 5-4.”
Of course, it could come to that; the Red Bulls’ seven goals allowed are the second highest in the league. Fortunately for New York, they have the firepower to overcome their defensive shortcomings.
“They have all-around good attacking players,” Gruenebaum said. “They play well together and attack in numbers. That’s a big reason they are scoring so many goals. It’s going to be a challenge to stop them but at the same time I think we have the defense to do it.”