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March 29, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Sounders FC vs. Columbus Crew, preview and prediction

Sounders FC (2-1-0) vs. Columbus Crew (2-0-0)
Saturday, March 29, 7 p.m. CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
TV/radioQ13 FOX, KIRO 97.3 FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish TV/radio: THIS-TV (KOMO2), ESPN Deportes 1490 AM
Referee: Allen Chapman

KEY CREW PLAYERS

F/M Federico Higuain — One of the best playmakers in the league, this 29-year-old Argentine has 18 goals and 17 assists in 44 MLS games. He’s dangerous from all areas of the field as a roaming No. 10, not to mention set pieces. The Sounders are yet to face him since he joined midway through the 2012 season (after the teams had already met) and was suspended for the meeting last season. On the other side, that means he hasn’t had to deal with Osvaldo Alonso yet.

D Michael Parkhurst — Another of a handful of returning U.S. internationals this season has come back to solidify a Crew defense that has allowed just five goals and one goal in two games. The 2007 MLS Defender of the Year has the versatility to play every position along the back line, but he’s settled in at center back. He played a big part in shutting down ex-Sounder Eddie Johnson in the opener and will get a different challenge this week in Obafemi Martins.

M Wil Trapp — Many have tabbed the 21-year-old homegrown player (and U.S. Soccer’s 2013 Young Male Athlete of the Year) to be the breakout player of the 2014 MLS season, and getting an assist last week against Philadelphia has him off to a good start. The central midfielder (the Crew’s rising star) played with DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle’s rising star) in college at Akron and also the U.S. U-20 national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey last summer.

KEY MATCHUPS

DeAndre Yedlin vs. Bernardo Anor — Speaking of Yedlin, his defensive assignment will come against the reigning MLS Player of the Week after the 25-year-old Venezuelan blasted home two goals against the Union. He’s really started to find his form, too, with four goals in his last seven games after scoring four goals in his first 39. Yedlin, ahead of his second USMNT call-up, has had a very steady to his sophomore campaign.

Jairo Arrieta vs. Chad Marshall — These two should know a lot about each other as Crew teammates in 2012 and 2013. In fact when Marshall was on with the MLSsoccer.com guys on ExtraTime Radio, he hinted that there are a little bit of a contentious history in this matchup. Arrieta, who scored in a Week 1 win vs. D.C. United, had a strong first season in Columbus (nine goals and four assists over 18 games in 2012) but tailed off a bit last year (three goals and four assists over 26 games in 2013).

Stefan Frei vs. Steve Clark — Goalkeeper vs. goalkeeper. This, to me, will be a side-plot to the game and really the season as these two were Sounders FC targets in the offseason when it came to replacing Michael Gspurning. Seattle ultimately got its man in Frei, but it will be interesting to see if Clark (who was signed off the Sounders’ discovery listed and immediately traded to Columbus) goes on to have a better season.

PREDICTION

The Crew was a sleeper pick by some at the beginning of the season, but they have everyone’s attention now following a 2-0 start under new coach Gregg Berhalter. The first two games, though, were against D.C. United and Philadelphia — two improved teams, sure, but not like the test waiting at CenturyLink Field.

That sentiment cuts both ways, as Seattle’s was able to get the three points in Montreal without Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans (who is questionable for Saturday) but that might not be as easy against upstart Columbus.

The MLSsoccer.com editors are tilted heavily in the Sounders’ favor, and I’m there, too.

Sounders FC 2, Columbus 1

SEA — Obafemi Martins (Gonzalo Pineda) 28′
SEA — Kenny Cooper (Marco Pappa) 72′
COL — Dominic Oduro (Tony Tchani) 85′

*     *     *

How do you see this one playing out?

| More in Preview and prediction

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