The Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew SC meet for the only time this Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and to say both teams need this game would be a tremendous understatement. Both teams are coming of disappointing results: for the Rapids it was a 3-1 home loss to LA Galaxy and for the Crew SC it was a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Orlando City.
I had a chance to exchange questions with Pat over at The Massive Report, and here is what we spoke about:
Burgundy Wave: The Crew had a rough match last week and did not look like a team that was expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title. What is going on in Columbus right now?
The Massive Report: Rough match is putting it nicely. The fact they managed two goals, one of them scored by Orlando, is impressive considering how poor the team played.
The last match was a culmination of things. Uusally the offense isn't that bad. Crew SC have the second-best attack in the league statistically and play some pretty attractive soccer going forward. The combination of Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara in the middle and Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay on the wings (although they all like to rotate positions) is deadly on most nights.
The issues have come on the other side of the ball. Columbus has been giving up goals like mad this year and Berhalter is yet to figure out why. Many thought the return of Wil Trapp, who missed 13 games with concussion symptoms, at defensive midfield would help, as he fills in along the back line frequently. It's been four games since his return to the starting XI and Crew SC has allowed nine goals in those matches.
Berhalter has played with different back line combinations and nothing seems to be working. It's been a comedy of errors at times at the back that even goalkeeper Steve Clark, who covered for mistakes last year, can't fix.
The Black & Gold are okay conceding some goals, as the team's style is geared towards getting numbers forward and scoring, but right now the club has a negative goal differential, which isn't going to get it done.
Somehow Crew SC remains in third place in the Eastern Conference, so things could be worse. But Columbus needs to get its defensive act together before others teams start to catchup.
BW: A pretty significant trade this week for Columbus as Jack McInerney made the move to Columbus. Why was he brought it and what are the expectations from Crew supporters?
TMR: The McInerney addition was an interesting one. Obviously the Black & Gold already have a proven striker in league leading goal scorer Kei Kamara and play a style that allows for one true forward. As mentioned above, the issue hasn't been the attack, but the defense, so bringing in another attacker was a bit puzzling (although at least one defensive player is on the way to the club).
When speaking with Berhalter, the head coach expressed a desire for a more diversified attack, meaning more players contributing goals. Despite scoring 36 goals on the year, only five players have found the back of the net. Berhalter believes McInerney gives them another option, different from Kamara or Aaron Schoenfeld and Adam Bedell. He also came at a pretty cheap price giving his scoring record, a second round pick, thanks to the Montreal Impact's need to offload players after the Didier Drogba signing.
How exactly McInerney will be used or how frequently is yet to be seen. You may get the first first-hand look Saturday, as he is in Columbus and expected to train with the team the next two days.
BW: What impact has Anthony Precourt had on the Crew as owner. The rebrand was biggest thing for most soccer supporters on the outside of Columbus, but what has be brought to the table?
TMR: Precourt has brought a breath of fresh air to a club that probably needed one. Starting with the rebrand, it was time to change. No longer was Crew SC "America's Hardest Working Team" as the slogan claimed and the construction workers were a bit outdated. With the direction the league has gone, the new logo and name feels like this team belongs in 2015 and not 1999 with the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
Other things Precourt has done is get naming rights for the stadium now known as MAPFRE Stadium. For all the good the Hunts did for this organization, including building the stadium, they could never get a name locked down. Precourt did that in under a year. He's also made several other changes around the stadium that give it a new feel. The locker rooms were renovated for the players, a new food supply company was brought in that gives a more local product at games (there's more than hot dogs, burgers, and pretzels at the concession stands), and the training facility was updated, which led to a naming sponsor for it as well.
Another thing that's different with Precourt is he's present. Despite living on the west coast, he makes time to come to Columbus often. When he's not here, he's active on social media, tweeting hints about announcements, commenting about games, and even commenting on our breaking story about Crew SC's lack of a gold kit next season. He's a recognizable face amongst the fans, which was not the case with most of the Hunts, especially after Lamar passed away.
This is going to be a bit of a crapshoot as Berhalter said there will be changes, but let's give it a whirl.
Hector Jimenez-Michael Parkhurst-Emanuel Pogatetz-Chris Klute
Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
Predicted Scoreline: Columbus haven't been good on the road this whole year, so it's tough to predict a win in any game that isn't being played in MAPFRE Stadium. The team will certainly be determined to put last week's debacle behind them though. Let's go with a 1-1 draw.
You can see my responses to Pat's questions over at The Massive Report