When the Vancouver Whitecaps stroll into Crew Stadium on Saturday, they'll be facing a once high flying team that has come back down to Earth in recent weeks. After a sizzling start, the Crew are having some trouble scoring goals and getting the results they need. The Whitecaps meanwhile, are still trying to prove they can play a complete match away from the confines of BC Place, as road struggles has been well documented in their brief MLS history.
To find out a little bit more about what the Whitecaps can expect, we touched base with Massive Report blog manager Pat Murphy.
86Forever: The one word I'm hearing a lot when describing the Dynamo match is, frustrating, at least from the team. How do you think the Crew will bounce back with this match against the Whitecaps?
Pat Murphy: It has been a "frustrating" stretch for players, fans, and really everyone involved with the Crew. After starting 3-0, Columbus is now winless in six games and hasn't scored a goal in the last two. The fast start unfortunately raised expectations above where they likely should have been and now everyone is frustrated that things haven't continued to go as well.
How this team responds will be interesting. New head coach Gregg Berhalter has hardly made an unforced change this season, but may feel it is time to switch things up. He has stated multiple times, it is about the performance and getting the right style of play over the results at this point in the process, but seemed more frustrated after the loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.
This team needs to start scoring goals, even if they aren't winning matches. The players have spoken about the chances created, but being unable to finish them. That is what I expect to see on Saturday, a desperation to put the ball in the back of the net and not just possess the ball in the midfield in front of the home fans.
86F: 11 goals last year, 4 goals already this year for Federico Higuain. He's also got a 'Newcomer of the Year' award on his mantle. Is it safe to say he's the real deal for the Crew?
PM: Yes, Higuain is the real deal. Crew fans have been somewhat spoiled in that position dating back to the arrival of Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2007. They have been able to watch two Argentinian playmakers unlock defenses with unique ability. I feel some fans have taken it for granted.
This is not to say Schelotto and Higuain are the same. Higuain is younger and more athletic, likes to dribble a bit more than Guillermo, and is more prone to finding the back of the net. Throughout his tenure with the Black and Gold, Higuain has played some of the more remarkable balls I've seen in MLS and, I believe, would be up there with the Henry's and Keane's of the world if Columbus were a bigger market and the Crew had been more successful in his time.
86F: 10 goals in 9 games played for the Crew overall, which is about middle of the pack. What can they do to generate more scoring?
PM: Scoring has been the issue this season since the opening three games. Seven goals to begin the campaign was great to see, but the well has dried up since then. Berhalter has tried both Jairo Arrieta and Dominic Oduro up top separately, yet neither has found a continuous scoring punch. Arrieta has looked the more likely of the two, fitting into the lone forward role better, but only has one goal from the run of play.
The team believes they are creating the chances to score, but the results have not been there. One issue has been teams forcing them wide, which is fine, but too many of the crosses are coming in the air to smaller attackers (Arrieta, Oduro, Higuain are all listed at 6'0" or shorter) instead of low and in behind the defense.
This is all part of the learning process as this team adapts to the new system, but the sentiment is beginning to grow among the fans that a goal scorer will need to be added once the transfer window opens. Easier said than done of course.
INJURIES: The only injury of note is potentially Hector Jimenez, who was left out of Wednesday's game with a groin issue. It didn't sound like it would keep him out for a significant amount of time, but it was worth noting. Also, when Oduro left the match against the Dynamo, it looked like he was shaken up. No word on that, so I expect him to be available Saturday.
PROJECTED LINEUP: Clark, Williams, Gonzalez, Parkhurst, Francis, Jimenez, Trapp, Tchani, Anor ,Higuain, Arrieta