Although the opponent is from the polar opposite side of the continent, the Black & Gold's situation this weekend is setting up quite similarly to last weekend's match at Montreal. Chivas USA comes to Crew Stadium ranking last in its respective conference with a particularly poor record of late. The Goats have gone 0-7-1 over their last eight contests with three goals scored over the span, to be exact.
The similarity of the situation is exactly why the Crew is not taking Chivas USA lightly on Sunday (3:00 p.m. ET / Time Warner Cable SportsChannel/UniMas). As the Impact proved last weekend, no match can be taken lightly, particularly when the points are as important as they are now.
"It's difficult. This League is not easy," said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. "Specifically, you look at [Chivas USA's] game against LA, for example. They played a really good first half. They gave up a goal that was a great goal by LA, and all of a sudden the second half becomes much harder. They're certainly able to put some stages of games together really well."
While Montreal was at full-strength against the Black & Gold last Saturday, the Goats come to Columbus battered and missing several key players. Star striker Erick "Cubo" Torres is away on international duty with Mexico, Carlos Bocanegra has been nursing a concussion while both Oswaldo Minda and Bobby Burling are out due to yellow-card accumulation.
"I think that's deceptive looking at those absences, because they've switched their lineup up anyway," said Berhalter, speaking specifically about the absences of Burling and Minda. "Whether they're playing Tony Lochhead and [Andrew Jean-Baptiste], or Lochhead and [Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado, they have combinations that they've been using, so I think they'll be comfortable enough [on defense]. In the midfield, they have combinations as well. I think they're going to play a similar game to what they've been playing, because they've certainly been improving."
Berhalter also addressed the Goats' biggest absence of all in Torres, whose 14 goals are tied for third in the League. The Crew boss cautioned that Chivas USA has several capable replacements, including a player he knows in Felix Borja, who played for 1. FSV Mainz 05 while Berhalter was plying his trade for TSV 1860 München in Germany. The Ecuadorian has just four MLS appearances after coming to the League on loan earlier this season.
"[Borja] is a quality player," said Berhalter. "I don't think he's gotten a lot of exposure yet in MLS, but he's a good player. You can see, he's very aggressive one-v-one, he's very good in the air and he's a real piece to their team. I think they miss Torres, obviously because of his record so far of scoring, but I think they have some good alternatives."
Of course, the Crew will also be without Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, both on yellow-card suspensions of their own. Kevan George and Daniel Paladini played together in the duo's role on Wednesday's scrimmage against Dayton. Berhalter said that he liked the way they controlled the match from the midfield, and both are candidates to start there on Sunday. Eric Gehrig, who has played rightback of late, is also an option in central midfield. No matter who the Crew fields, the priority is getting back in the win column with a prime opportunity at home against a side that, according to Ethan Finlay, will come to Columbus ready to play.
"I'm expecting them to come here and fight," said Finlay. "In the second half of their last game after Seattle, after going down 4-0 at half, they came back and fought ... They traveled a long way obviously, but they didn't start all their regular starters on Wednesday night. You'll see some new faces in the lineup. There'll be some fresh legs and some tired legs, but it'll be a team that's going to compete."
Echoing Finlay's compliments about Chivas USA's second-half performance against Seattle, Berhalter and his side are focused entering Sunday's match.
"We're concerned with them. We know it's going to be a good team. Our objective is to take it to them, to be aggressive, to really go out there and set the tone in the game."