OBETZ, Ohio – The Colorado Rapids’ dynamic duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings did not score in their two matches this season against the Columbus Crew. A repeat of that performance can only be good for the Crew.
Cummings (14 goals) and Casey (13) helped the Rapids to the second-most goals in MLS with 44, one fewer than Real Salt Lake. In the past two years, the pair has 51 goals.
“They’re good players and they work well together,” Crew defender Andy Iro said. “Colorado obviously relies heavily on those guys.”
The Rapids (12-8-10) beat Columbus 1-0 on June 5 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park when Drew Moor scored off a corner kick. It was a different story in Crew Stadium on Aug. 21. Pablo Mastroeni had the Rapids’ goal in a 3-1 defeat.
“We feel pretty confident against Colorado,” Iro said. “The last three seasons we’ve had a pretty good record against them.”
[inline_node:321464]Colorado have scored one or no goals in their past nine games against the Crew since a 3-1 victory on April 8, 2006.
The outcome could be decided by how well the Rapids test goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who became the starter after William Hesmer fractured his right shoulder Sunday in the Crew’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union. Hesmer is out for the season.
While Gruenebaum has no minutes in MLS this season, he has played in 10 US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League games.
“It’s the playoffs,” Gruenebaum said. “It doesn’t matter how I feel. Once that whistle blows, everything is going to be fine.”
Gruenebaum will need to control the box as well as Hesmer did Sunday. In the 2-1 loss to Seattle in the Open Cup final on Oct. 5, Gruenebaum’s indecisions factored in the Sounders’ goals.
Expect Colorado to feed the ball toward the power forward Casey off flank service by Cummings.
“Cummings is very fast,” Crew defender Gino Padula said. “He plays good behind the defenders. Casey is a goal-scorer. He’s a smart player. They have a great midfield, too, with Mastroeni and [Macoumba] Kandji.”
Added Gruenebaum, “Conor Casey’s got a way of finding that space, making that run flashing in front of you. You have to be aware of him at all times. And Cummings has the speed factor as well. Our organization in the back is going to be huge.”
The Crew (14-8-8) back line is healthy for one of the few times this season, even though Iro had a slight ankle sprain Sunday. Captain Frankie Hejduk will man the right side, with Iro and Chad Marshall patrolling the skies in the middle.
The biggest decision for Robert Warzycha is whether to start veteran Padula at left back or swift rookie Shaun Francis to combat Cummings, both of whom have played well against the Rapids, according to the Crew coach.
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