Columbus Crew (13-6-5, first in Eastern Conference)
Head coach: Robert Warzycha, second year
Last week: Lost on road to L.A. Galaxy 3-1
Last year: 13-7-10, lost to RSL in first round of playoffs
KEY COLUMBUS PLAYERS
F Guillermo Barros Schelotto — Maybe the 37-year-old Argentine has lost a step. Maybe he’s not lighting up the league like he has in the past. But beware of counting out the crafty veteran, who like Fredy Montero is a dual threat in scoring and playmaking.
M Eddie Gaven — An unsung hero for the Crew to be sure. The 6-foot midfielder, if I remember correctly, was available to Seattle in the expansion draft, but has grown into a leader for the guys in canary yellow.
GK Will Hesmer — The backstop has been a little hot and cold for Columbus this season. Unbeatable at times, then makes a head-shaking mistake in the back. It’ll be interesting to see which one shows up tonight with Seattle struggling to score again.
Seattle F Blaise Nkufo v. Columbus centerbacks Iro/Marshall — Nkufo is expected to start Saturday and his physical presence will be welcomed in the Sounders attack, especially facing two strong defenders. Don’t discount Fredy Montero, of course, but if Nkufo is able to shine, his team could steal a result.
Seattle mids Alonso/Sturgis v. Columbus mids Carroll/Moffat — Both these teams like to play soccer the right way, meaning more controlled possession and less frantic long balls. As such, controlling the middle of the field will be key and whichever side gets the better of this matchup will be in good shape.
Columbus F Steven Lenhart v. Seattle centerbacks Parke/Ianni — Call this a like-for-like pairing. All three of these guys are physical and thrive in the air. Lenhart got on the board in the first matchup between these two and will be good for a chance or two tonight for sure.
Columbus away looked like one of the harder games on the schedule in preseason and not much has changed in that regard. Seeking to keep up in the Supporters’ Shield race, expect to see the home side as motivated for the win as the Sounders amid a chase to the playoffs.
I still have a feeling Seattle will be somewhat affected by all the travel and could be a little fatigued. Schmid has rested some of the regulars on defense, but the leaders on offense (Montero, Zakuani) have had few breaks.
Not sure I see the visitors leaving Crew Stadium happy two years in a row.
Columbus Crew 1, Sounders FC 0
63′ — Lenhart (Gaven)