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Here's what we know about the Columbus Crew.
- They give it up as badly as anybody who isn't really terrible. They're very near that magic goal-and-a-half-against-per-game milestone which is the statistical mark of a poor defense. They have few defenders of a high calibre and goalkeeper and, at this stage, Will Hesmer isn't scaring anybody who isn't a Toronto FC defender late in stoppage time. Most of the Crew defenders are either blood-red rookies or have been in the league a while and we know what they are.
- In their two wins, the Columbus Crew beat Montreal at home and Toronto away. Well good for fucking you. I've played for teams that can do that, so don't expect no Canadian treble on those grounds.
- While the Columbus offense isn't very good they do have decent team scoring. This is actually a big point in their favour, as the Vancouver Whitecaps' vaunted bunker has so far stymied teams relying on two or three big players to get their offense. Columbus won't get many goals this year, but the goals they do get could come from seven or eight guys. Even defender Chad Marshall piles up the shots: he's like Martin Bonjour with accuracy, which gives me heart palpitations at the thought of Vancouver's shoddy corner defense. The Vancouver lineup has a few defensive weak points: it'll be interesting to see how they cope with an attack that isn't very intense but is well-spread out.
- Michael Nanchoff requested 500 tickets for friends and family. Did you hear about that? It's only exclusive to all newspapers. But what's much more interesting is the possibility that Nanchoff will get a shot tonight: he played the Reserves match last week and was one of the few Whitecaps who looked involved. With the reserves, Nanchoff played centrally but if he comes off the bench he presumably won't be taking Gershon Koffie or Jun Marques Davidson's spot. That would give Nanchoff a chance to get involved out wide which, as you know, is something the Whitecaps have lacked this year. Hell, Matt Watson's best moments last week came because he was willing to go outside and there was just so much room out there.
This game is no gimme. The Whitecaps are embarking on a hellish stretch: they're in Ohio today, Edmonton Wednesday, Vancouver next Saturday and Wednesday, then at New England, then they hopefully tangle mid-week games with either Montreal or Toronto while oh yes getting the first two games of the Cascadia Cup rolling on the weekend... it's going to hurt. Martin Rennie will have to use his depth, and one wonders how much this will effect the team's preparation even early in the trip.
If we take Rennie at his word, which you can't always do, the team will be playing more of the depth players against Edmonton. This is too bad, as a game at an Eastern opponent ultimately means far less than the Voyageurs Cup and the Eddies are not to be underestimated. But some of the players on the field tonight will also be on the turf at Commonwealth Wednesday, and some of those players know it.
Mental fitness. Never underestimate it. The Whitecaps can't help but look forward a bit during a stretch like this, not because they disrespect the Crew but because they're walking up a hill before they climb a mountain.