In a battle of top sides in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, the Crew welcome the New York Red Bulls to Columbus on Saturday (4:00 p.m. ET/NBC Sports Network). With two games in-hand on the Black & Gold, New York is currently in second-place on 14 points in the Eastern Conference standings. The Crew sits in fifth-place on 12 points after playing eight matches.
Saturday will be the 55th regular season meeting between the two sides, and the first of three matches against each other in 2013.
In two meetings with the Crew last season, Thierry Henry scored four goals and chipped in two assists to account for six of the seven goals the Black & Gold allowed against the Red Bulls in 2012. The 35-year-old superstar has not showed any signs of slowing down in 2013 with three goals and an assist through the first two months of the season.
Limiting Henry's impact will be the top priority for the Crew defense on Saturday.
"You just always have to take account of where [Henry] is," Crew centerback Chad Marshall explained. "He's good at finding those spaces. He's obviously one of the best to ever play the game. He's still got good speed and good feet.
"You know if you give him an inch, he's able to capitalize. We have to always know where he is."
Just as Kenny Cooper flourished alongside Henry last season, offseason acquisition Fabián Espíndola has added to Henry's firepower in the 2013 edition of the Red Bull attack. The Argentine has three goals to his name this season.
A menace to backlines across MLS, Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum likened Espíndola to a particular Crew teammate, "He's a lot like Jairo [Arrieta] in the sense that he's just never going to give up and he's got skill to go along with that gritty-ness."
"[Espíndola] is a buzzer," Head Coach Robert Warzycha added. "He has a very good left foot. He dribbles very well, he's busy. They are very dangerous in front."
SET-PIECES KEY ON BOTH ENDS
Like the Crew, the Red Bulls have been one of the League's top threats on set pieces. Offseason addition Juninho is world-renowned for his deadball service as New York has scored three goals from restarts this season. All three goals have been from corner kicks, and all have been scored by hulking centerback Jámison Olave.
The Black & Gold have yet to concede a goal from a restart this season, and will look to eliminate set piece opportunities for New York on Saturday.
"It will be very important not to give up fouls in bad areas," Warzycha explained. "Set pieces will be very important."
Added Marshall: "They've got big guys too, guys that can get in the box and score. Obviously, Juninho serves a good ball. It's going to be tough."
On the attacking end, the Crew has scored five goals from dead ball service this season. Three have come from corner kicks, while two came from indirect free kicks taken by Federico Higuaín and Tyson Wahl.
For both sides, set pieces will likely play a major role in the outcome of Saturday's match.
"Set pieces on both ends are going to be important for us," Gruenebaum said. "[Restarts] could really change the game. If we can keep them off the board, and we like to make our money on those offensive set pieces as everybody knows, that will be big for us if we can stay compact and not give away silly challenges in our end."