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Know Your Enemy: Columbus Crew – Meeting the Second

A cool picture, relevant as it's from a Jairo Arrieta goal.  He's good.
A cool picture, relevant as it's from a Jairo Arrieta goal. He's good.

Eleven days later than originally scheduled, Toronto FC heads into Columbus to take on the heavy-hearted Crew.

The match, postponed out of respect for the death of midfielder Kirk Urso and to allow Columbus to attend his funeral, pits the Trillium rivals against one another for the second of three matches this season.

It has been a tumultuous season in Columbus: a debilitating spat of injuries, a match - against Salt Lake - nearly called off when storms knocked out power in much of the local area and left several players without power for days, and then the tragic passing of such a young player.

But through adversity comes strength, and as they brace for the final two months and a push for the playoffs, Robert Warzycha's men have come together.

It's been a long time since the sides last met at the end of March at BMO Field; a closer look at the Crew is in order.

Recent Form

Inconsistency has plagued Columbus since riding a season-high six-match unbeaten run through the international break.

Despite falling out of the US Open Cup at the first time of asking - 1-2 at home to the Dayton Dutch Lions at the end of May - they drew at New England upon the resumption of the league to continue the run before embarking on a steady series of mixed results.

A loss in Chicago was followed by that storm-affected win over Salt Lake; a further pair of losses - away to Montreal and at home to Kansas City - were followed by a pair of wins - home to DC and away to KC.

Their fortunes began to turn with the arrival of Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta from Deportivo Saprissa. After making his debut in the losing effort to KC at home, since his inclusion the side has lost only one further match - away to DC - before playing to two consecutive draws against two of the tougher opponents in the league.

The first draw - 1-1 - was an emotional return to the pitch at Crew Stadium against Los Angeles last Wednesday.

Having paid tribute to their fallen teammate pre-match, Columbus began slowly; feeling their way into the game with LA taking the initiative. Robbie Keane nearly opened the scoring, denied from a tight angle by Andy Grunebaum. Mike Magee appeared to have been felled in the box, his run blocked off by Carlos Mendes, but no whistle was forthcoming.

Chances began to come the home-sides' way and Josh Saunders was called upon to deny Chris Birchall and Eddie Gaven on separate occasions.

Arrieta struck first, inside of two minutes into the second half, collecting a Sebastian Miranda long-ball from the back into space on the right-side of the pitch. Seemingly without any options, the forward cut inside working past a slew of LA defenders as he made his way across the top of the box to the arc, before unleashing a low, left-footed effort back across the keeper, which bounced awkwardly past Saunders, who in retrospect would like to have a second chance at stopping that one.

Keane did eventually find his goal, a simple tap-in from four yards after some excellent work from Sean Franklin on the right, collecting a ball from Michael Stephens, nutmegging Dilly Duka and charging towards the end-line before squaring a precise pass for the Irish striker to convert.

A fair enough and diplomatic result on what was a testing night.

Four days later, having travelled to Houston, Columbus returned to the pitch to take on the Dynamo.

Brad Davis opened the scoring by smashing a Oscar Boniek Garcia pass into the top left-corner of the goal before a Cole Grossman equalizer - a belter of his own, placing a perfect shot into the top right-corner of the Houston net after Gaven had played Duka into space on the right-flank deep in the Houston half.

Gaven then capped off a wonderful passing move down the right, latching onto a Federico Higuain ball over the top, bearing down on goal through the middle, holding off the challenge of Jermaine Taylor, and opening up his body to stroke a left-footed finish across the keeper. He celebrated by kissing the Kirk Urso patch on his chest.

But the win was not to be, as former Crew midfielder, Adam Moffat, made good on a pre-match promise to blast one past his old buddy Gruenebaum. A bundled clearance rolled out to Moffat lurking at the top of the arc, upon finding a right-footed shot closed down he took a touch onto his left and blasted the ball towards to top left-corner.

GBaum, as some call him, or, if one prefers, the Hebrew Hammer - he has been called that as well - got a paw to the powerful drive, but could not prevent it from looping over him and finding its way across the goal-line.

Again, the 2-2 draw seemed fair on the night.

Projected Lineup

Slowly and steadily, methodically even, Columbus has built up an impressive roster. Constantly prevented from playing a first-choice eleven, or even a consistent side, by injury, the new arrivals and a return to fitness of some has left Warzycha with plenty of options.

Success in recent weeks has strewn from a sturdy, yet fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, and there is little reason to predict a shift at this time.

The projected lineup is as follows: Andy Gruenebaum in goal; from right to left across the back - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Carlos Mendes, and Josh Williams; Chris Birchall and Cole Grossman sitting deep with Dilly Duka, Federico Higuain, and Eddie Gaven across the top; Jairo Arrieta as the lone front-man.

football formations

Given the strong debut performance from Gonzalo’s brother, Federico - after only three training sessions, no less - he is likely to get his first start for the club.

Playing him from the beginning could provide the necessary lift to engage the fans and energize the side. Milovan Mirosevic - who missed the weekend match and may not recover in time - and Gaven can also feature in that role, should Higuain not last the full ninety.

Nemanja Vukovic, on the verge of recovering from ankle twang, could return to his left-back position, while Danny O'Rourke is also listed as doubtful. If he can make it, he could take up one of the defensive midfielder roles, likely in place of Grossman, and Justin Meram is as likely to feature in place of Duka, who has looked the more lively of the two in recent weeks.

The likes of Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Julius James, Olman Vargas, and Emilio Renteria have been limited to the role of substitutes, with Renteria a particularly nice option from the bench when trailing.

His dynamism - for a big man - and hold up play make him the perfect foil for Arrieta to run off.

Last Meeting

The two sides played out a relatively stale match back on March 31st in Toronto.

Neither side looked particularly dangerous until Columbus was handed a goal when Logan Emory flubbed a clearing attempt, knocking the ball into the path of Bernardo Anor at the top of the box ten minutes into the second half.

Julian de Guzman was caught in possession near the centre circle by a fine sliding tackle from Mirosevic, Anor collected the ball and ran at the Toronto goal straight down the middle of the park.

He dished out to Gaven on the left, received the return pass but took a heavy touch and Emory seemed destined to clear the danger. Rather than boot the ball for a throw-in, Emory got too cute, whiffed on his clearance, which struck Anor and settled nicely for a simple right-footed stroke high into the net.

There was the matter of an earlier saved penalty kick. Ty Harden was adjudged to have fouled Vargas (diver) near the right touch-line and the referee pointed to the spot.

Mirosevic stepped up and sent a right-footed attempt to Milos Kocic's right. It was a good height for the keeper, but Milos did well to get down and save it, much to the delight of his teammates and the fans in the nearby North Stand.

Toronto mustered very little by way of a comeback. de Guzman played through Eric Avila on the right, who tried to slip a finish under Gruenebaum, but was denied. Efrain Burgos Jr. came on in the final ten minutes and dragged a shot from outside the box, agonizingly wide of the left-post.

0-1 to the Crew with TFC dropping a third-straight league match to open the season (don't worry; it got much better from then on in).

Bullet Points

Grunebaum has turned out to be a bright spot in an often dreary season, regularly making game-saving stops to help his side to one of the best defensive records in the league - having conceded twenty-four goals in twenty-two matches.

If he is allowed time to set himself and clear lines of sight at the ball, he will likely stop it, so rush him.

Arrieta's movement, as seen here, and hold up play - for a small man - atop the formation has been fantastic.

In six matches, he has three goals - including a brace in Kansas City - and an assist. He must be watched and shepherded away from goal whenever possible

Higuain, in only one half of football, already appears more dangerous that Mirosevic has thus far. He is intelligent - both of movement and of passing, strikes a fine free kick - nearly scoring against Houston, and has already contributed his name to the score-sheet.

Terry Dunfield will have his hands full trying to keep an eye on him and deny him space to operate.

High pressure from their attackers when out of possession, especially against KC and LA, caused a lot of trouble and turnovers, even leading to this wonder-strike from Arrieta. Move the ball quickly - of course, easier said than done.

Birchall has been providing most of the delivery from dead-balls recently, but Mirosevic is solid as well, and Higuain has shown himself skilled in that department - be it from corners or direct on goal.

Watch for Josh Williams on set-pieces, he seems to get on the end of everything, has a penchant for the extraordinary, and has been unfortunate to have not scored this season - at least twice he has had a goal chalked off for dubitable offside decisions.

Set-pieces will likely be a concern with Columbus a physically bigger side than Toronto.

As with all MLS back-lines - not just Toronto's - they can get caught sleeping or unorganized on set-pieces. Watch how easily KC's Matt Besler shirks his marker for a free header.

They also tend to drop deep under pressure, leaving space for a shot at the top of the box - as in Moffat's strike on the weekend.

They were equally troubled by DC's use of diagonal balls to spring players.

On short rest and in the midst of a busy schedule - seven matches in twenty days - just like TFC, but one full of playoffs ramifications, the Crew are a dangerous team to face at the moment. They will be hungry for a result; Toronto must match that energy.

The sides will meet again in the final regular season match of the year on October 28th, but a win will see Columbus clinch this season's rendition of the Trillium Cup.

Toronto has struggled in Columbus. Seven matches played with two draws and a solitary win - last season's 2-4 result, which included a rare strike from Julian de Guzman. TFC drew the first-ever meeting between the sides back in 2007, 2-2, on goals from Danny Dichio and Jimmy Brennan.

Former Reds Julius James and Tony Tchani are currently members of the Crew, while the injured Will Hesmer and Danny O'Rourke were once on the books, but never featured for Toronto.

Columbus Crew Eastern Conference 7th Place

Points 30 Played 22 Wins 8, Losses 8, Draws 4

Goals For 23 Against 24 Differential -1

Home 5-3-2 (13/12) Away 3-5-4 (10/12)

You can find more of James Grossi’s insightful ramblings over at Partially Obstructed View and follow him on twitter @Grawsee