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Week 29: A look ahead to Columbus Crew

The Rapids hit the road again to play in Columbus… for what may be the last time.

MLS: Columbus Crew at FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids hit the road again to play Columbus Crew… for what may be the last time.

Poor, poor Columbus… A team that has been playing in form, sits comfortably above the Eastern Conference’s playoff line, and is by all accounts having a solid season. So why did I say ‘poor, poor Columbus’ about 6 seconds ago? Because of all the controversy surrounding Columbus Crew’s owner, Anthony Precourt, announcing that he was moving them to Austin. One of the original 10 clubs back in 1996—along with our own Colorado Rapids—has been having a series of successful years and routinely drawing in very respectable crowds. In fact, in 2014 they set a record for most cumulative attendance as well as most sellouts. They might not be drawing in the numbers that Atlanta may be getting, but it is nonetheless a good attendance. The fact that a team with the credibility that Columbus has can be up and pulled out of their city by their owner, with very little in place to prevent it, should worry fans of the Rapids.

But enough of the story surrounding what may become Austin FC. How do the Rapids look as they head to Columbus for their one and only appearance against them in 2018? First off, the Crew are coming off of a two-game road trip, first against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas which resulted in a tie, and a mid-week game at Portland which they have yet to play at the time of writing. Given the mid-week appearance, the Rapids might be able to capitalize on this.

Columbus has been, by and large, a team of underrated players. Unlike some of the other recent teams we’ve covered, CCSC is very dedicated to playing a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Building out of the back is goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Zack has been playing a very, very good 2018 season, getting call-ups to the USMNT and is often in the discussion for Tim Howard’s replacement as the starting goalkeeper. The back line assisting him is generally composed of Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, and one of their DPs, Milton Valenzuela. They have helped lead Columbus to being one of the best defenses in the league, allowing only 34 goals over 28 games.

Their central and defending midfielders are Wil Trapp—who also got call-ups to the recent USMNT friendlies and acts as CCSC’s captain—and a Brazilian player who goes by the mononym of Artur. We may also see Ricardo Clark, who has made a few appearances in the last several games. The offensive midfield will DP Pedro Santos, DP Federico Higuain, and Justin Meram. Pedro Santos is new to the team this year, coming from Braga in the Portuguese Premeira Liga. Justin Meram returns to Columbus after a stint with Orlando for the first half of the season, while Higuain has been a mainstay with Columbus since 2012 from Club Atlético Colón.

Their offense, however, isn’t a tremendous threat. They sit tied for the second-to-worst offense, above of course, the Rapids. With only 35 goals, they tend not to play in absolute blowout games like others in the eastern conference. Their score total comes largely from one player: ex-LA Galaxy player and USMNT player Gyasi Zardes. He’s been having a very good season, scoring 15 goals so far. The second-place leader only has four goals, and the rest of the total comes from nearly a single goal from every other player on the team. I nearly guarantee you Zardes will be at the very front of the team, ready to get a goal via an assist from nearly any other player on the team.

In a lot of ways, they remind me of what the Rapids were in 2016. A team that got by without scoring many goals, but by having such an incredible defense they ended up placing very high in the table. I would expect to see them do reasonably well in the playoffs.

If the Rapids want to come out with anything, they are going to have to learn how to start marking their men in the back third. Don’t let Zardes get the ball in our 18, keep one or two defenders posted on him at all times, and keep playing a full 90 minutes. Even under an optimistic scenario, I think a 1-0 win would be huge. If we play well, keeping this to a 0-0 tie would be about the best result we can realistically ask for.