Whew! I almost wasn't able to put this week's question and answer preview thread together given that SB Nation doesn't currently have a Columbus Crew blogger (know of one?). I was thinking about doing my own personal QA and with myself based on my own research, but it probably would have been a miserable failure. I just don't know enough about the Crew to make any sort of reasonable attempt.
Luckily, Columbus Crew Examiner, Matt Bernhardt, was able to take time out of his day to answer some questions for me regarding tomorrow's match up.
Columbus Crew Q&A
Coming off a streak-breaking loss in San Jose, what will Columbus be looking to change in tactics, or squad from that game and tomorrow's?
It doesn't appear that anyone around the Crew is panicking, but the coaching staff is using the loss to remind everyone that much work remains to be done. From the statements I've seen from players and coaches, they don't think they're as bad as an 0-3 loss to San Jose, nor are they as good as their earlier shutout streak.
That said, Shawn Mitchell (@smitchcd on Twitter) reported this week that the team was using two outright forwards this week in practice - which hasn't been the case since the first game of the season. Warzycha had been using a single advanced forward (usually Emilio Renteria) with a tweener running behind him. Eddie Gaven and Dilly Duka had been used there most recently. I think its probably 50/50 at this point whether we see an actual forward, or another midfield behind Renteria. I'd lean more toward two forwards, but the strength of Portland's home field advantage has me thinking maybe Warzycha will play more conservatively.
The team, particularly on defense, has done far better than many observers predicted. While it wasn't hard to predict that Schelotto would be very difficult to replace, the emergence of Julius James, Rich Balchan and Sebastian Miranda in the back has been a very pleasant surprise. Miranda has locked down the right back better than Hejduk did, while Balchan - last week's loss excepted - has done very well for a rookie at left back. James makes me nervous with some of his adventurous footwork, but so far he's avoided the major gaffes. At defensive midfield, Brian Carroll had a down year in 2010 but Kevin Burns has at worst been a minor step down.
On offense...it is hard to see Mendoza as anything but a disappointment thus far. After starting the first three games he's been barely used while Renteria has really stepped up on offense. Cunningham hasn't been able to smell the field, in large part because of Warzycha's one-forward strategy. The team hasn't been able to score regularly, as the field of midfielders is generally capable but not exemplary. No single player has emerged to take the reins and say "this is my team" the way Schelotto did.
Looking ahead to tomorrow's game, who is/are the player(s) that the Portland Timbers and fans should be keeping an eye on.
Watch Dilly Duka and Eddie Gaven. Those two have been the Crew's best hope for creative midfield play, so their ability to cope with the atmosphere and pressure will determine whether the forwards can be threatening, or just chasing down long balls from the back.
On the defensive side, keep an eye on Julius James. He is an aggressive defender who plays like a midfielder, and I expect him to get burned at some point this season. When he achieves what he attempts, he is solid - but when he doesn't...
Coming into a very hostile stadium where the Portland Timbers haven't yet lossed, what will be the Crew's gameplan?
I expect the Crew to try and weather the storm, especially in the first half. We haven't scored a goal in the first half all year, so there's no reason to think that will change Saturday. Warzycha has done a pretty decent job of adjusting at halftime, so its possible that we'll see more offensive play in the second half as players adjust to the environment. That isn't to say that we'll bunker and pack ten field players into 20 yards like Kansas City did, but I wouldn't expect the team to play like Brazil.
Projected starting line up?
Rogers Rusmir Gaven
Balchan James Marshall Miranda
Portland Timbers Q&A (my answers)
Portland has been a Jekyll/Hyde team it seems, unbeatable at Jeld-Wen but struggling mightily on the road. How much of that do you think comes from the home environment, or did the team simply need a number of games to come together?
The Portland Timbers away record is a little misleading in what it actually tells. Many people look at the team's record and come to the conclusion that the Timbers can't perform away from home. In reality, it's just the unfortunate scheduling that makes it appear so. The Timbers' first three games were on the road. Each of those three games were also used to figure out who would be in the starting 11. As such the team was shaky and ill prepared, especially against the likes of the MLS Cup Champion as season opener. That would be rough on any team, but more so on the Timbers. It wasn't until the game against the Los Angeles Galaxy did the team really come together in its current incarnation and, let's face it, losing away from home to LA is an easy "accomplishment."
Today, while the team is winless away from home, they've certainly played impressively, drawing Seattle 1-1 in an overtly hostile environment. I would say as we approach more away games against some of the weaker MLS teams we'll see Portland's away record turn into more wins than anything else.
As for the home record, well, that can be tied to a number of things. Certainly the Timbers Army are a huge factor in their boisterousness and overall enthusiasm. I have no doubt that it not only inspires the Timbers to win, but also gives them that small bit of extra energy to bring it home. There's also the overall noise level. While Jeld-Wen Field only holds 18,627 people in it's current incarnation, because of how close everybody is and how loud the Timbers Army are, it creates an obstacle for the opposing team who can't always hear each other on the field. Whether or not either of these directly influence a game or not is up for debate, but I believe this is a huge reason.
Crew fans will no doubt remember Eric Brunner and Adam Moffat, and many also recall the drafting of Bright Dike in 2010. How have Portland fans found these three?
They've each integrated well of their own accord. Eric Brunner plays the largest role currently in the Portland Timbers as he is our steadfast centerback. As far as most Portland Timbers fans are concerned Brunner will be a Timber for life at this point.
Bright Dike has played for the Timbers since last season when they were still in the D2 league where he was a superstar for the team. It's very unfortunate that he suffered such a long lasting injury during pre-season training as I believe he would have been our subbed striker instead of Eddie Johnson.
Finally, there's Adam Moffat who really has only played a handful of games for the Timbers, which is unfortunate as I'd like to see him integrated a bit more (were there the space). Because of this it's a little difficult to judge fan reaction of Moffat. He most recently played a commanding role against San Jose in the USOC match up where I was personally impressed by him. Were the Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury get subbed out or injured I'd like to see the regular spot given to Moffat.
Beyond the three above (two of whom are injured it seems), who are the players that Crew fans should watch closely, and what should we expect from them?
The Colombian pair Diego Chara (midfield) and Jorge Perlaza (striker). These guys are still getting into the motions of MLS and being away from home for the first time ever, but they are going to be a very exciting duo to watch in the coming years. These two players have a lot of history between the two of them having played together since they were both 12 years old, most recently in the Colombian first division. Today, they still make very impressive runs where Chara will take a commanding lead of the center midfield in an attempt to drive the ball to Perlaza. I have a feeling by the end of the season these two players could be one of the most important, impressive and dangerous partnerships in the league.
Troy Perkins; Rodney Wallace, Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Jeremy Hall; Kalif Alhassan, Jack Jewsbury (c), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Kenny Cooper, Jorge Perlaza (from left field to right), 4-4-2 position.
Jack Jewsbury and Darlington Nagbe were both listed as "Probable" on the most recent injury list. In case either don't make it I would sub them out for Adam Moffat and Sal Zizzo, respectively.