There’s always some uncertainty when a team comes off a three-week break from league play, as the Columbus Crew did on Saturday evening.
Will the passing and finishing be crisp? Will the defense be tight? Can Andy Gruenebaum continue his outstanding play in goal?
Following the Crew's 0-0 tie against New England in Gillette Stadium the answers were no, sometimes and absolutely, in that order.
Gruenebaum, who had 14 saves in the previous two road matches, made another six to help the Crew (5-4-4) improve to 3-0-3 in the past six games.
His best stops came when he pushed aside a bouncer off the turf by Lee Nguyen in the 91st minute, a close-range left-handed block of Fernando Cardenas in the 38th and a strike from Saër Sène that he fingertipped onto the woodwork.
“Those saves pretty much kept us in the game,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said.
Defender Eric Gehrig said Gruenebaum, whose five shutouts this season include three on the road, gives the team confidence that he’s going to clean up any mistakes in front of him.
“The best goalkeeper in the league, hands down,” Gehrig said.
The defender's black-and-gold uniform may factor into his opinion, but Gruenebaum has certainly been one of the Crew's most valuable players as evidenced by the late save on Nguyen. The stop ensured the team rose to 1-0-3 in its past four road games, having just allowed one goal.
“It was a weird ball,” Gruenebaum said. “It bounced up higher than I thought it would be. Initially, I was upset at myself for not holding it but after seeing it again it was just a tough ball to deal with.”
The ‘keeper had some help along the way, particularly a slide tackle by Gehrig at the top of the penalty area in the 87th minute to thwart a potential scoring attempt after a slaloming run from Kelyn Rowe.
“He’s a good player with the ball at his feet, especially when he’s coming at you,” Gehrig said. “I just tried to mark him straight, 100 percent tackle, and not get anything but the ball and I was able to.”
It wasn't all positive, though – while the Crew did manage three shots on goal they were blanked for the fifth time this season.
“The first half we possessed the ball well but in the middle of the second half we lost our composure,” coach Robert Warzycha said.