COLUMBUS – With the middle of the field increasingly clogged by Philadelphia’s physical play on Saturday, the Crew looked outside the scrum for some type of offensive momentum but found no answers.
The end result was a 1-0 victory by the Union – their first of the season – that sent Columbus to their second straight loss and gave manager Robert Warzycha something to focus on this week during training.
“We needed to have better play down the sides,” Warzycha told to MLSsoccer.com. “I was disappointed.”
It would be hard to fault rookie Ethan Finlay on the right flank for that shortcoming in his first start. The Crew’s 2012 first round SuperDraft selection showed a good work rate but took a beating along the way.
“We knew it was going to be a little bit dirty,” he said. “I felt like I tried to keep my nose in there, take the hits.”
On the other side of the field, Eddie Gaven continued his early-season struggles by being a non-factor for the second straight match.
To some degree he is a product of an offense that is still in flux as new addition Milovan Mirosevic finds his place in the side. The assumption was that Mirosevic would be the attacking catalyst, but he’s not entirely comfortable in his new role.
Accustomed to playing directly behind a striker, Mirosevic is further back manning the center midfield spot and was nonexistent for long stretches of the 1-0 loss to the Union.
“At times we were a little too direct,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “We need to sometimes just settle down and try to pick them apart.”
When Mirosevic doesn’t have the ball, it spells troubles for the flank players, most notably Gaven, whose strength is moving inside and drawing fouls in dangerous spots.
Last season Gaven was third in the league with 2.5 fouls suffered per game (65 in 26 matches) and he’s averaged 2.06 for his career. But through five matches this year, he’s been fouled just seven times (1.4). While fouls suffered is not the only indicator of an aggressive player, it does show that Gaven’s been afforded little space and hasn’t taken advantage of it when opportunities do arise. In 2011, he averaged 2.23 shots per game compared to four in five matches this season (0.8).
Getting the midfield in sync is an ongoing process, as was demonstrated against Philly when three-fourths of the unit were new to the club. In addition to Finlay and Mirosevic, rookie Kirk Urso has started every match in the holding position.
Urso’s done an admirable job defensively but he’s still learning how to be the conduit between the backline and the midfield to turn the ball up field quickly. Too often the Crew have allowed opponents to get numbers behind the ball.
How good or bad are the Crew based on their 2-3-0 record?
Their wins are against teams with a combined 1-10-1 mark (Toronto FC, 0-5; Montreal, 1-5-1). Even more damning, the 2-0 victory against the expansion Impact was aided by playing a man up for 71 minutes.
On the flipside of the equation, the Crew’s losses have come against teams that are 7-8-2, led by New York’s 3-2-1. Colorado is 3-3 and Philadelphia made the Crew their first victim (1-3-1).