In the run up to this Saturday's road matchup between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Columbus Crew, I thought I would do a little digging around for some background on the Black and Gold -- a primer of sorts for those Whitecaps fans planning to take in the match.
And while it's certainly not the most useful nugget I've been able to mine thus far, I find it more than a little ironic that the Crew's current man-in-form Eddie Gaven (left) turns out to be the player least likely to secure an endorsement gig with the team's kit sponsor, Barbasol.
Sifting through the numbers, and panning for answers, it's difficult to get a solid read on this year's Crew. In fact, I'd have to say that any conclusions that can be drawn are about as reliable as core sample results provided by a promoter knee deep in the penny stocks market.
True to their logo, the Crew are more heavy metal than precious metal -- more blue collar than black tie. And it's that workmanlike approach that Martin Rennie & Co. will need to be prepared for, and wary of. With conference rivals Seattle Sounders just one point behind the Caps -- and with two matches in hand -- this weekend's date with Columbus is shaping up to be pivotal if Vancouver is to maintain third spot in Western Conference.
Owners of a sub .500 record of 2-3-1, Columbus hardly appear intimidating -- particularly when you consider that their two victories this season came over Eastern Conference plankton Montreal and Toronto. Those two victories moved Columbus' all-time record vs Canadian teams to 9-1-7 in MLS play.
But, if recent form is to be given somewhat heavier weighting, Whitecaps fans would do well to consider that the Crew played to a 2-2 draw vs Houston Dynamo in their last match -- the Dynamo clawing back to tie thanks to a very late marker. Houston's record (2-1-2) is deceiving if one forgets that they are the ultimate road warriors of the MLS, playing their first seven matches on the road this season while construction on their new stadium is being completed.
While the Whitecaps continue to work their way through an extended offensive malaise averaging only three shots on goal per match, the Crew average five. Things look a little brighter for Caps fans when we look at the defensive side of things. The Caps are giving up .86 goals per match, while the Crew are yielding 1.5 each outing.
With the departure of Andrés Mendoza at the end of last season, it would appear that hirsute Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven (#12) has stepped up to fill the void offensively. Gaven leads the team with two goals -- both potted in his most recent outing, vs Houston Dynamo. His numbers are impressive: 7 attempts on goal, 5 shots on target, with a scoring percentage of 28.6%, and a very healthy 71.4 % SOG rating.
Forward Olman Vargas (#17) leads the team with 13 shot attempts and an SOG% of 53.8. He's followed by midfielder Milovan Mirosevic (#10), who boasts similar numbers with 12 attempts on net and a scoring percentage of 8.3%, slightly better than Vargas' 7.7%.
The back line is anchored by team captain Chad Marshall (#14), a behemoth in soccer terms at 6'4" and 190 lbs. Marshall's accolades are many, including two MLS Defender of the Year awards, a pair of MLS All-Star designations, and team MVP last season. The nine-year veteran with the Crew has started all six matches so far. Playing kibbles to the bits that is Marshall is diminutive Chilean right back Sebastian Miranda, who also is six for six in starts this season. Third-year man Shaun Francis (#29) has five starts this year, and the remaining slot in the back four has been filled by committee nomination along the way.
Columbus will be rested, hosting the Caps in the second of two consecutive starts at home for the Crew. Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum is up for save of the week after parrying a Brian Ching thunderbolt from distance over the bar -- a close shave for the Crew, if not Gaven.