OBETZ, Ohio – Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, as the saying goes, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot in soccer.
Many of the Crew players have lamented the lack of a crisp passing game this season compared to the one that carried them to the MLS Cup title in 2008 and the past two Supporters’ Shields.
“We need to link passes together because our work rate is unbelievable,” midfielder Adam Moffat said. “That’s the reason we’re having the success we have. We know we can play better. We’ve been getting wins but we want to play better at the same time.”
But veteran defender Frankie Hejduk has been around the world enough to know that there are other ways to score.
“Possession is great, but it’s not everything. It’s not the game,” he said. “Mexico, every time the U.S. plays them, has 80 percent of the possession, but we win the game every time.”
It’s a peculiar spot for the Crew: It has been criticized for some ugly wins, yet it is 6-0-2 with Saturday’s home match against Los Angeles (8-0-2) looming.
“It’s a good position to be in – worrying about form and we’re sitting on 20 points in eight games,” Moffat said. “If we weren’t getting the results we’d have to take a good, hard look at ourselves.”
Is the Crew up to the task of taking care of the ball against an LA team that likes to get the turnover and counter? Hejduk thinks so.
“At times in the New York game, we moved the ball from one side of the field to the other like I haven’t seen all year.”
Yet, the Crew has only five of 14 goals from open play. Its past five scores have come via a penalty kick, headers off two corner kicks, a throw-in and cross that led to another header, and a turnover deep in the Red Bulls’ end that Emilio Renteria converted unassisted.
That doesn’t bother Crew coach Robert Warzycha, who likes to point out that many of the restarts that produced goals came off the run of play. He chafes at the characterization that the team is playing poorly.
“I am happy with our performance,” he said. “I am happy with the tactical plan and what we are doing on the field. We’re winning the games, scoring goals every game so I’m not concerned about one play or set pieces.”
Rather than relying on possession and attacking, the game could actually come down to who defends the best and who has a little bit of luck.
The Crew has allowed six goals in eight matches to rank second behind the Galaxy – who are nearly air-tight with just two given up all season and absolutely none in five road matches.
Yet, the Crew has dodged a few bullets along the way. In road wins vs. New York and Kansas City last week, their opponents combined to hit the framework four times.
“The post has been our best player so far,” Moffat said. “We’ve been slightly fortunate, but we’ve also had a few changes in the back as well. We’ve not had a consistent lineup back there.”
Inconsistency in the back line could rear its ugly head again on Saturday for the Crew. Hejduk (right hamstring strain), defender Danny O’Rourke (right quadriceps strain) and defensive midfielder Brian Carroll (right ankle sprain) are doubtful.
Center back Chad Marshall has returned from the U.S. World Cup camp but has been hampered for weeks by a hamstring injury.
LA, on the other hand, will be missing its top offensive threats in U.S. internationals Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle as they prepare for the trip to South Africa.
Warzycha downplays the importance of the match even though it involves the latest two unbeaten teams to have met in MLS history.
“This is another game,” he said. “Obviously, they’ve had a great start to the year. They are playing very, very well. It would be nice to get a good result at home against them. They are the team to beat right now.
“After this game there will 21 games left,” he added. “I am taking this as one of the 22 we have.”
At least the players are excited.
“This is the type of game you really look forward to playing,” Moffat said. “We want to keep the winning form at home and show the league we mean business.”