The Crew kicks off the 2013 regular season in Major League Soccer with a 10-day West Coast road trip, beginning with the season opener on March 2 against Chivas USA.
Much like the Black & Gold, the Goats went through a massive overhaul this offseason, parting ways with 13 players while adding nine others. Under the helm of new Head Coach José Luis Sanchéz Solá, better known as "Chelís," Chivas USA will be a vastly different squad compared to the side the Crew faced in a 1-0 victory at Crew Stadium last August. The Rojiblancos side is highlighted by 2012 holdovers Dan Kennedy in goal and U.S. Men's National Team forward Juan Agudelo.
With little preseason game film to study, preparing for such a mystery can be a difficult task. Instead, the Crew is mostly focused inward.
"I know Chivas has Agudelo and they've got Kennedy in goal, and that's about it," defender Josh Williams frankly stated. "I don't know much else. There's been a bunch of turnover there. They let a lot of guys go there. We know they like to play an attacking style. It's kind of a mystery right now. We're not really sure of what to expect. We're going to rely on our coaches to give us a good scouting report and they've been doing that so far. We're going to go in there, play our style and hopefully come away with three points."
"I can only speak about my team, but it's going to be a tough game," Head Coach Robert Warzycha added. "I'm sure that they're going to do everything they can to win. I'm not expecting anything less than a tough game for us."
ADJUSTING TO A 3-5-2
One thing the Crew coaching staff does know is that "Chelís" likes to deploy a 3-5-2 formation with Chivas USA. The Rojiblancos will rely heavily on the midfield of Eric Avila, Miller Bolaños, and Laurent Courtois attacking (R-L) and defensive midfielders Marvin Iraheta and Osvaldo Minda to keep possession in their attack-minded approach.
"As of now, we know they play a 3-5-2 and it sounds like they will be pretty offensive-minded," defender Tyson Wahl explained. "Normally in a 3-5-2, they try to dominate the midfield, especially central midfield. They can be left vulnerable in the back, that's the risk they take. It's also a gamble they take to provide them with more offense."
"Right now, we know their formation a little bit, but we're going to work on our game and get our guys in the right spots," Williams echoed.
For Warzycha, studying the 3-5-2 is a throwback to the early days of MLS.
"I think you have to get used to [playing against the formation]," Warzycha said. "It's the system [Chivas USA] is playing and whether it's right or wrong, we'll find out. I remember in the beginning of the League, we used to play that system. It's something different, but we have to be prepared for it."
2013 may be the year 20-year-old striker Juan Agudelo makes an impact in MLS. Despite earning 17 caps and scoring two goals for the U.S. Men's NationalTeam at such a young age, the Colombian-born forward has yet to flourish in MLS, tallying just nine times in three seasons between the New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA.
Under "Chelís," Agudelo could finally reach his potential. Always a threat in the attack, the Crew will be well aware of Agudelo on Saturday.
"We have to know where [Agudelo] is at all times," Williams said. "He's a big, strong, fast guy who likes to bang a little bit. He's good on the ball. He's a good forward. Right now, Chad [Marshall], Gláuber and us guys on the outside, we need to know where he's at at all times and keep chirping at each other to let each other know where he's at."
"[Agudelo] is a skillful, athletic forward," Wahl echoed. "You have to always be concerned that he's going to get in-behind you. He's also a pretty strong guy. It seems like that's something he's been working on, he's been in the weight room and gotten a little thicker. He's a dynamic player we'll have to be aware of at all times."
Despite Agudelo's athletic prowess, Warzycha has faith that his defensive core of Chad Marshall and newcomer Gláuber and contain the athletic the young striker.
"[Agudelo] is a good forward," the Head Coach said. "He's going to be looking for the ball and trying to score goals. For us, having Chad [Marshall] and Gláuber, who are very experienced defenders, they can make his life miserable."
The Crew kicks off against Chivas USA at 10:30 p.m. ET (FOX Sports Ohio/610 WTVN) from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.