The Crew returns home to Columbus this weekend for Red, White, and Crew against Western Conference opponent Real Salt Lake. Here are a few storylines to watch on Saturday night:
BEATING THE HEAT (AND RSL)
Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 90s (no pun intended) at kickoff on Saturday night, making it a battle of stamina for both the Crew and Real Salt Lake in the summer heat. Veteran Eddie Gaven stressed the importance of coming out of the gate attacking against the Claret and Cobalt.
"We know it's going to be hot. We know as the games go on, the legs aren't going to be there," Gaven said after Thursday's training session at Crew Stadium. "Things are going to break down mentally as you get more tired. Sometimes you don't make a run that you should make, you don't cover when you should cover. We want to try to take advantage of the energy we have early to try and get a goal."
The Black & Gold has only lost once at Crew Stadium to Salt Lake in the MLS regular season. An early goal Saturday night would help extend that success in 2012.
BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN THE FINAL THIRD
Following last week's loss to Chicago, Chris Birchall pondered that maybe it was a lack of confidence in the final third that could explain the Crew's failure to convert just one of 21 shots into a goal.
Ahead of this weekend's match against RSL, Eddie Gaven offered his explanation of Columbus' offensive woes.
"I think we did a pretty good job in terms of our build up and getting the ball into the final third," Gaven explained. "Once we were there, we weren't making the right choices. Sometimes, we would put in a cross when maybe we should've kept it on the ground. Sometimes we passed instead of shot and shot when we should've passed."
So what did the Crew work on this week in training?
"(Building confidence in front of goal) is something we've been working on during training," Gaven said. "The more we play games with each other, hopefully we'll get on the same page more and more. That will show in games and we'll create some better chances and score some more goals."
"I think every game is different," head coach Robert Warzycha added. "Obviously, (in Chicago) the ball didn't bounce our way. Hopefully, we will be more decisive in front of the goal (against RSL)."
BECKERMAN OUT, OLAVE DOUBTFUL
Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis will be without the services of US Men's National Team defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman on Saturday night due to yellow card accumulation. Kreis may also be without 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Jámison Olave, who is listed as doubtful on the club's injury report. The big, Colombian center back injured his calf in last Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the LA Galaxy and missed last weekend's 2-1 home defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Both Gaven and Warzycha noted that due to RSL's depth, the Crew's gameplan will not change despite the absences of such key figures.
"We know they still have a very good team," Gaven complimented his opponent. "Plus, they've lost their last two games at home, so we know they're going to be coming in here ready to go, trying to take some points from us. We've got to keep things tight on the defensive side of the ball for sure and not give them anything easy."
"I think they have some good players," Warzycha echoed. "Whether Olave is playing or not playing, I don't think they're going to change their system or change the way they play."
VARGAS LOOKING FORWARD TO FACING FELLOW COUNTRYMAN
Just a few weeks ago, Crew striker Olman Vargas and RSL's Álvaro Saborío were called into Costa Rican National Team duty for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Vargas is now looking forward to facing his fellow countryman on Saturday.
"We know each other very well, even before we were playing on the national team," Vargas said through a translator. "I'm excited to play against him. He's a good player, so we'll see what happens."
Saborío leads Salt Lake with seven goals in 2012, and will be one of the many threats posed to the Crew back line this weekend.
"(Saborío) is very opportunistic. He's a clinical finisher," Vargas lauded the RSL striker. "Anywhere inside the 18, he can finish it."
Vargas is confident his teammates will be able able to neutralize the prowess of his fellow Costa Rican.
"Saborío has been (in MLS) for a while," he said. "I believe our defenders know him very well. They know the things they need to do to avoid any scoring opportunities."