MLS returned from its World Cup break last night, as San Jose managed a 0-0 draw at Real Salt Lake. Tonight, we get to see if that break hindered DC United's climb up the table, as the Black-and-Red travel to Columbus to take on the Crew.
I'm trying to write this between Uruguay's 2-1 win over South Korea and before the USA-Ghana match this afternoon, so this will be brief. Go beyond the jump for the likely Crew formation and a couple things to watch out for.
Here's the likely Columbus team:
Given the likelihood of United starting either Adam Cristman or Danny Allsopp (I'd prefer Cristman, who regardless of his limitations is scoring goals), I'd expect to see Eric Brunner start over Andy Iro. Brunner is slower but is more steady than Iro, and I'm pretty sure Robert Warzycha has picked up on the fact that we don't exactly start a track team up front.
Elsewhere, Steven Lenhart's poor finishing has left his spot as a starter in jeopardy. We could see former Maryland star Jason Garey get a start as the lone striker instead, but that would be a slight surprise. The rest of the team is pretty straightforward, now that Frankie Hejduk and Danny O'Rourke have used the break to overcome injuries.
THREE KEY POINTS
1. Columbus is conceding important late goals. In their last three outings, the Crew has conceded in the 87th minute against LA (making it 2-0 Galaxy, essentially killing the game off), the 79th minute at San Jose (the equalizer in a 2-2 draw), and the 85th minute at Colorado (the only goal scored, as the 10-man Rapids emerged victorious). United has been improving in the later portion of our recent games in terms of attacking. If this game stays close, DC could easily turn a loss into a draw or a draw into a win if they can come up with a moment of quality when the chance comes.
2. How do we shut down Barros Schelotto? "Guille" plays a position somewhere between forward and attacking midfield, and is great at finding the gaps that open up when Columbus stretches defenses. One good way to hurt Barros Schelotto is to force the game to be played in a narrow fashion. This is tricky, since Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven know full well that their ability to stay wide is a key part of the Crew attack, but it can be done. Both players have cutting inside in their DNA; staying wide is often something they have to focus on. If United starts well and denies crosses early, they'll start moving towards the middle. That'll let us collapse the field and substantially increase our chances of keeping a clean sheet.
3. The team that makes the fewest mistakes in midfield will control things. No one's talking about it, but Columbus has been a bit shaky in central midfield. Brian Carroll isn't playing as well as he did in 2008 or 2009, and Adam Moffat has found himself battling for his spot every single week because he's not standing out. It's still a strong unit, but it's not something to fear like it was in the recent past. If Stephen King and Clyde Simms can keep up the clean, simple play that was working before the break, we could end up taking control of the center of the field. If we can avoid needless turnovers, this game becomes one we can win.