COLUMBUS, Ohio – Imagine the Columbus Crew as a NASCAR driver making a pit stop halfway through the race he leads. Adjustments are forgone for a splash of gas, hoping that will be enough to make it across the finish line.
WATCH: FULL HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 2, NY 0
Meanwhile, his closest pursuers are also pitting. New York decide to change tires for more traction and think their French-made Thierry Henry brand will provide the boost. Chicago are not far behind and opt for new wheels as well. Their choice of brand are Mexican Nery Castillo tires.
The race for the podium's top spot is on and anxious times permeate Crewville.
Fans and players alike entering Crew Stadium on Saturday wondered how Columbus could stay atop the Eastern Conference while standing pat. The Red Bulls – minus Thierry Henry, who watched from a suite – were in town and threatened to claim first place with a win.
The Crew thwarted the Red Bulls' effort and, judging by the Nordecke supporters section's spontaneous celebration on the concourse following a 2-0 win, the result was something special. They sensed the significance of the outcome and so did the Crew, whose head coach Robert Warzycha said was "very important to us.”
The result assured everyone that if the Crew (9-3-4) are on their game – short passes, patient attack and a stout defense – they can contend for the MLS Cup, even without adding any more marquee names to the roster.
New York looked no better than when the Crew won 3-1 in Red Bull Arena on May 20, but that’s because they were so badly outplayed.
“That was our plan, to pass the ball and go out and play,” Warzycha said. “The way we played, we didn’t allow them to play. We pressured them high, we were winning the middle of the field and Chad [Marshall] and [Andy] Iro and everybody in the back were good.”
The Crew increased their points advantage to five over the Red Bulls, but aren’t ready to pop the champagne yet.
No Problem – The most encouraging aspect of the victory, besides the dynamic effort of forward Emilio Renteria, was the performance Guillermo Barros Schelotto put forth.
Despite playing for the third time in eight days on his 37-year-old legs, the Argentine was stellar in setting up the first goal for Renteria and the Red Bulls had no answer to his forays through the middle of park.
Backe changed tactics at halftime in a futile attempt to turn the match around.
“We played with three central midfield players because we couldn’t close down Schelotto even if he was playing as a second striker,” Backe said. “It was too easy [for him] to penetrate in the central field.”
Favorable Frenchman – Although Henry told MLSsoccer.com Friday that he doesn’t consider himself an ambassador for the league, he left a favorable impression in his short stint at Crew Stadium.
Henry did numerous media requests with a smile, went out of his way to sign for autograph seekers and even did postgame interviews in a non-press conference setting.
The French striker’s allure was evident. Observers said Schelotto waited in the parking lot for Henry to emerge from the locker room and the two talked for about 10 minutes near the New York team bus.
Ahead for the Crew – After three straight midweek games – two of those in the US Open Cup – Columbus are idle until hosting Houston on Saturday before going on the road for three straight games.