You could call it a case of “good news, bad news” for the Columbus Crew.
On one hand, after having a full week off from match action to rest and recharge after a grueling three-game stretch last week, the club has fresh legs for its match at Portland on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET / Time Warner Cable SportsChannel).
On the other hand, the club also has to replace exactly one-half of its starting backline with the news that both Michael Parkhurst and Waylon Francis are set to be away on National Team duty.
Parkhurst was an expected absentee, but earlier this week, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter decided to release Francis as well in order to allow the leftback to join his country's camp. The Crew boss believes it was the right decision to maximize Francis' chances of making Costa Rica’s National Team.
“On one hand, for the club, we’re going to miss [Francis] in this game, but on the other hand, it’s a good opportunity for him,” said Berhalter. “We wouldn’t want to hold him back, and I think in the long run, that’s the right way to play it.”
The timing is perhaps more inopportune than Berhalter would prefer, as Providence Park is a notoriously difficult place to play, and with strong attackers like Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Gaston Fernandez, Timbers FC can be a handful when it is on its game.
“It’s a good team,” said Berhalter. “They showed last year how strong they can be, they have fantastic home support, and it’s going to be a tough game. I’ve watched their games recently—some interesting results, at the end of the game, they’ve been really pushing and getting results out of the last couple of minutes, but I think it’s a good team. They have some dangerous players for sure.”
“It’s going to be a tough game,” added Dominic Oduro. “It’s similar to playing in Seattle—the fans are going to get into the game. We have to move forward. We’ve lost three games in a row, but it’s in the past right now … Everybody has adjusted to what we’re trying to focus on moving forward. It’s going to be a test for us.”
Thanks to Justin Meram’s stoppage-time winner, the Crew defeated Sounders FC on its first trip to the Pacific Northwest in 2014, and it will be looking to go two-for-two with a strong performance in Portland. With just a 1-3-6 start to the season, Timbers FC has gotten off to a slow start—something Berhalter said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by.
“Different groups get on runs at different times. I think it’s a group that has quality, and I expect them to get their points soon enough.”
The Crew boss confirmed that the club had a great week of training and is recovering well from their stretch of matches last week. Although the backline will be new, Berhalter is confident his team can put together a strong performance by focusing.
“I would say right now, a lot of the issues are between our ears. We’re not a different team all of a sudden, we haven’t been playing that differently all of a sudden. It’s mostly up here,” said Berhalter, while pointing to his head.
“I think that that’s what we’re trying to get the guys to realize: to relax and play. We have some good talent and we’ve been putting some good performances in. It’s about relaxing and playing.”