COLUMBUS, Ohio – Beginning Monday, the Crew will have five practices before playing at New York on Saturday. How will they ever cope?
That question’s in jest only because training and rest have been foreign concepts for the team after going 4-1-2 in a 22-day period that finished with a 2-0 loss at New England last Wednesday.
Mercifully, head coach Robert Warzycha gave the team the next four days off before the players returned to the Obetz training facility.
“We’re going to work on some things to get better, but the main thing is to make sure we’re rested,” he told MLSsoccer.com.
The Crew haven’t had the luxury of this much preparation since the week of July 30, leading into a defeat at D.C. United on Aug. 4. Early the next morning, rookie midfielder Kirk Urso unexpectedly died in Columbus.
What followed was a week of mourning in which the players and staff tried to gain some normalcy through several light practices before ultimately having the Aug. 11 game against Toronto FC postponed so they could attend Urso’s funeral that day.
The Crew resumed their match schedule on Aug. 15 in the first of four consecutive Wednesday games plus three weekend matches that disrupted the training routine.
On the positive side, Columbus’ play during the arduous stretch didn’t suffer. In fact, they moved to fifth from seventh in the Eastern Conference and hold the final playoff spot with seven matches left.
“We went on a decent run and [now] we have to take advantage of this time off,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said.
Despite the recent success, an area for the Crew to work is making sure forward Federico Higuaín can operate closer to goal after New England felt their strategy of denying him dangerous space was one reason for their win.
“You could see when Higuaín would get the ball, we were on him, and he started to drift wider and we knew to take him there,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said after the match.
Montreal tried the same approach in the previous match with mixed results: Higuaín was kept in check until assisting on a free-kick goal by Chad Marshall in the 80th minute and the stoppage-time winner off the head of Emilio Rentería.
“For the most part, [Higuaín] disappeared for most of the game,” Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins said afterward. “He’s getting balls out all the way on the touchline. It’s not dangerous for us. We gave away silly fouls and one hurts us.”
A little good fortune is needed for a win streak, such as the four-gamer Columbus had until the New England match.
Warzycha noted as such after Eddie Gaven scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to give the 10-man Crew a 2-1 win at Philadelphia on Aug. 29.
“Five minutes of extra time for me was a little bit too much,” Warzycha said. “I thank the referee for five minutes because if he had given us four, we would not have scored.”