OBETZ, Ohio – Robert Warzycha looked like a genius 35 minutes into Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal series against Real Salt Lake in Crew Stadium.
As much as he could, at least, for a coach who rested his best player for the first game of the series. But Guillermo Barros Schelotto scored two goals to give Columbus a 2-0 lead and a seemingly sure path to the conference final.
Then, the wheels fell off for Warzycha and the Crew, who eventually settled for a 2-2 draw and a 3-2 series loss on aggregate goals.
A year later, the Crew are in the same position, as they trail Colorado 1-0 ahead of the Eastern Conference semifinal series at Crew Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, TeleFutura).
[inline_node:322079]“Hopefully we’re more mentally prepared this time,” midfielder Duncan Oughton said.
As bad a memory as the game last year was, Warzycha would like to see Schelotto & Co. start against Colorado the same way they did against RSL in '09: with plenty of pressure on the visiting Rapids.
“If we score first and get the crowd behind us, we can do something,” Warzycha said.
Columbus are 13-0-2 when scoring first this season, including 9-0 at home.
“We have to go with a lot of energy,” Warzycha said. “We have to be aggressive but also not give up anything early. We can’t panic. We have 90 minutes to score one goal.”
Warzycha is expected to start forward Andrés Mendoza instead of Steven Lenhart in front of Schelotto, while Eric Brunner could replace centerback Andy Iro.
Brunner would provide cover against the high-scoring duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. Crew rookie left back Shaun Francis had trouble with the speedy Cummings in last week’s loss in Colorado before settling down.
“In the first half, their game plan was to draw me out so they could play the ball over me and have Cummings one against one on our central defender,” Francis said. “We adjusted in the second half.”
Mendoza, meanwhile, should be able to distribute the ball better than Lenhart and get wingers Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo more involved. Even with the changes, however, the Crew have an uphill battle.
“Are we in the perfect position? No,” captain Frankie Hejduk said. “But if we can’t win a playoff game at home, we don’t deserve to go to the next round.”