COLUMBUS — The last time Colorado visited Crew Stadium during a regular-season match in August, the importance of defending set pieces was a No. 1 priority for Rapids manager Gary Smith.
The offensive threat posed by Columbus on dead balls was so great that Smith decided to pair up 6-foot-3 Julien Baudet and 6-foot-2 Scott Palguta for their only start together at central defense all season. The Rapids manager is not ruling out using one or both of his big men in the middle in Saturday’s second-leg playoff match. (Sat., 4 p.m. ET, TeleFutura)
“They are physically well-equipped,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com of Columbus. “To have big, strong guys that are capable of meeting that challenge head on is important. … Maybe that’s the way we have to face the challenge.”
The Rapids' central pairing in the first leg was made of regular starters Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor, who stand at 5-foot-9 and 6-feet, respectively. They shifted to fullback roles in that regular-season meeting. However, Smith could also decide to stick with them in the middle for the second leg.
“The two center-halves that have played at the weekend, at home on a big pitch with a lot of pace were very efficient and limited [Columbus] to very little in open play,” Smith said. “It’s a different game this weekend. We’ll see.”
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Crew will put Colorado’s back line under greater pressure on Saturday, likely generating even more set-piece opportunities as they look to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the aggregate score line.
“We certainly know [Columbus] are a strong presence going forward and we’ll deal with it,” Baudet said. “We dealt with it last week, with or without me.”
In case they needed a reminder of how well the Crew execute their set-piece opportunities, the Rapids got it during the final stages of the first leg at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Only the reflexes of goalkeeper Matt Pickens were able to keep the Crew off the board.
Pickens will need a lot more help from his back line ahead of what could be an onslaught of aerial balls. Set pieces are one of the three keys to the match identified by Crew manager Robert Warzycha.
“We have to have a better game,” Warzycha said. “We need to do the little things: one-against-one battles, 50-50 balls and to be sharper on the set pieces.”