Ahead of Saturday's game against our deadly rivals from Ohio, I got in touch with Patrick Guldan of Massive Report, SBNation's Columbus Crew blog to get a bit more info on how their season's going so far. You can check out the Columbus view of the game there, including the Massive Report podcast reviewing their game against Montreal last week and previewing this game, including a quick interview by yours truly, which starts about 22 minutes in.
After the Jump Patrick answers my questions about the formations Columbus are playing so far and what we're likely to see on saturday, as well as how Tony Tchani's comeback from injury is going. Also i answer his questions on how TFC's squad is looking so far, possible lineup tinkering before the game in Mexico, and if there's actually anyone who can defend now that Frings is out. So, Columbus, how you doin'?
Waking the Red: What were crew supporters expectations for this season going in as far as style and success go, and after 2 games, are they living up to that?
Massive Report: Expectations are a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference, anything less and the mob will get very restless. The offseason saw the a lot of off field improvements and the addition of Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas. The team has a good defense and some offensive weapons. There isn't a top goalscorer on the team, everyone will have to chip in.
The game in Colorado was a big disappointment, the team looked awful. At home and against an expansion team down to 10 men, they looked much better. The pieces started to fit, but that's to be expected with a man advantage for over 70 minutes. If Vargas and Mirosevic play like they did against Montreal, this team will make the playoffs and maybe challenge for the top spot in the East if Kansas City stumbles.
WTR: There's already been a couple of different formations Columbus have put out there, what can we expect to see against TFC and who are the dangermen TFC will need to focus on?
MR:With Vargas fit and ready, I expect that the Crew will be in a 4-4-2. There isn't one key player on this team. Mirosevic is expected to keep the offense running. He was all over the field against Montreal. He saw a lot of the ball and had the time and space to work to pick out the next pass. The forward combo of Emilio Renteria and Vargas can certainly be dangerous. Renteria is as physical as any forward in the league and will throw his body around. He also has a little bit of speed to stretch a defense. Vargas is exceptional in the air. The Crew will be looking to get him the ball on set pieces and off of crosses. Warzycha could of course throw a wrench in the works and just run out the 4-5-1 for all road games, but I don't think it's likely.
WTR: Masochistic TFC fans often like to think about how badly the Dwayne de Rosario trade and it's aftershocks worked out for us. Andy Iro proved he wasn't the answer to our defensive problems, and the less said about Leandre Griffit the better, and both are now gone. Tony Tchani obviously got off to a false start last year with his injury, but how's he looked so far through the preseason and the first 2 games. Is he likely to be an important player for the Crew this year?
MR: Tchani was supposed to be a contributor this year, but struggled during the offseason and came into camp lacking fitness. He did get some first team minutes in preseason but now finds himself on the bench. He lost out to rookie Kirk Urso in the 4 man midfield. Tchani certainly has the talent to be a good central midfielder, but needs to get back to match sharpness to unseat the surprising Urso. Columbus certainly is in a position to win this trade, well since Iro and Griffit are already gone, but it's no sure thing that Tchani will recover some of that lost promise.
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MR: It's now year 2 of the Aron Winter era and there seems to be some semblance of a plan. Is there enough talent on this team to vie for the playoffs?
WTR: Yes, aside from the one glaring hole of the lack of a good quality centre back. We have both talent and depth up front where Ryan Johnson's early form made up for Danny Koevermans' slow start ( though he's looking sharper and sharper, the goals are coming soon for him). Draft pick Luis Silva looks like a dangerous attacking midfielder, and free agent signing Reggie Lambe is beginning to look very tasty on the wing. In midfield we're ok, especially if Torsten Frings can ever get back there, though we need more consistent effort from Julian de Guzman.
The problem is that until the defense is sorted out, we won't ever be able to really utilize those strengths properly. Andy Iro wasn't the answer, Chilean Miguel Aceval is too slow to be the answer, another new signing Geovanny Caicedo, got "mutually consent"ed before the season even begun and we're basically right back where we were last season.
That means compromises are necessary, whether it's Torsten Frings being moved back to be a 3rd Centre Back, or having 2 defensive midfielders playing right in front of them. Until we can get a reliable Centre Back partnership, the best TFC fans can hope for is to be in and around the edges of the playoffs, though with a bafflingly good cup run thrown in for good measure. We're all hoping Adrian Cann, almost ready to return from an ACL injury suffered last May, can be the man to turn things around, but that's a big ask.
MR: How much squad rotation do you expect with the upcoming Santos Laguna match next week?
WTR: Probably not much, mainly due to lack of options because of injuries and under 23 olympic qualifying callups. I'd expect Koevermans, Eric Avila and new signing Logan Emory, a defender formerly of the Puerto Rico Islanders, to all get 90 minutes as they're ineligible for Wednesday's game. Any other changes will come up front where the drop off in talent wouldn't be too bad. Joao Plata only got roughly 20 minutes in the last game, so I'd expect him to get a full game in, and Luis Silva should also see playing time after being an unused sub.
In defence and the defensive midfield spots, the only real options are rookies and kids, which would be a big risk. Given how the MLS season started and how the home opener was such a disaster, I think getting points from this game will be seen as very important. Aside from Emory coming in instead of probably Miguel Aceval who left Wednesday's game with an injury, I don't foresee changes to the defensive players, and Milos Kocic will definitely be in goal given the only other option is Brian Rowe of the emergency goalie pool.
MR: Toronto seems to have plenty of firepower on offense, but without Torsten Frings, does anyone else play defense?
WTR: They do, but the centre Backs in particular don't seem to play it well. Left back Ashtone Morgan and right back Richard Eckersley are decent at the back, and, when we play 3-4-3 very good at going forward to join the attack, but it's at centre back where there are still issues. Ty Harden is an ok second Centre Back. If paired with someone genuinely good, he'd be alright, but though we've got a few players at that level, we don't have that one Chad Marshall-esque player to be the leader of the defence and to help those secondary players do the job.
Moving Frings back has helped out, or playing a very defensive midfield helps out, but playing an attacking 4-3-3, which is what Aron Winter really wants to do is pretty much suicidal with the squad as it stands. If we play a defensive system, we can be relatively solid, and the forwards are good enough to be able to create chances on their own, but if we try the other way around, the defence is nowhere near good enough to be able to hold it's own.
Thanks Patrick, and here's where I usually say good luck with the rest of the season, but, erm, yeah, never mind.