Chris Birchall

Crew look to continue home success against Sporting Kansas City

The Crew will look to extend its winning streak at Crew Stadium to four matches this weekend as the Black & Gold welcomes midwest rival Sporting Kansas City to Columbus. Just like its last home match against Real Salt Lake, The Crew will have its hands full with another top of the table opponent in Sporting.

"We have to play kind of similar to the way we did against Salt Lake," midfielder Chris Birchall said after Thursday's training session at Crew Stadium, "We just need to get around them and not give them time on the ball. We need to be nasty and aggressive and win tackles, just try to get in the passing lanes and stop them from playing."

Columbus' focus will be on winning the battle in the midfield and cutting off the supply to SKC's three forward attack of Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, and C.J. Sapong.

"Their midfield, if they get ahold of the front three and get the ball to them, then they're going to cause us massive problems," Birchall explained. "They've got six really great players. If they're on their game, it's going to be tough. (SKC midfielder Graham) Zusi is a class player. Whoever is in midfield, whether it's me or somebody else, we've got to get around him and give them a nasty game."

"They play very well as a team," defender Josh Williams added. "They are a very aggressive team as far as tackling, and just getting in the way. Not only do they have a three-headed monster up top, but they have a three-headed monster in the midfield with (Paulo) Nagamura, (Roger) Espinoza, and (Graham) Zusi."

Coming off a 2-1 loss Sunday in Montreal in which the Crew only registered one shot on goal, the team will need to spark some creativity in the attack to break a Kansas City defense that has allowed just 17 goals in 18 matches this season. Perhaps a change in Columbus' lineup could help the aforementioned offensive woes.

"We've been going through different formations and different personnel on the team," Birchall elaborated. "I think the coaches will obviously pick what team they think is going to adapt to (SKC). I think we really need to win the midfield battle. In the past few weeks, we get to a certain point on the pitch where we just don't know what to do. We either go sideways or backwards or look for the killer ball and give the ball away, so options and goalscoring opportunities have been the things we've been lacking. "

"The coach is going to put a team out there that he thinks is going to give (SKC) a hard game and hopefully put some chances away," the midfielder continued. "We've been fairly good at home recently, so we've got to try to carry that on and make (Crew Stadium) a fortress."

The Crew's lone attempt on target and goal agaisnt the Impact last week came on a Milovan Mirosevic header from a Nemanja Vukovic corner. Set pieces could prove once again to be vital to the Black & Gold's success this week against Sporting.

"We have to make sure we improvise in front of the box and be good on set pieces," head coach Robert Warzycha said. "Then if you think about their back four and goalkeeper, it hasn't changed since probably the beginning of last year. They have good chemistry and understanding. That is why it is very difficult to play them"

The Crew currently sits in seventh place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings, just three points out of a playoff spot as the halfway mark of the 2012 season approaches.

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