86 Forever (86F): Crew SC are W1-L2-D0 to start the season. Can you shed a little light as to what led to the two losses?
Massive Report (MR): The match to open the season against the Houston Dynamo was a strange one. The Black and Gold dominated the contest (18-6 in shots and 59.4 percent of the possession) on the road, but couldn't finish the chances the team created. Fans were fairly pleased despite the defeat.
The New York Red Bulls loss in the last game was a bit of a concern. New York pressured high and risked exposure at the back. While Columbus played a decent first half, mistakes (conceding a penalty kick and a terrible giveaway), which may have been a result of the intense pressure all game, led to the Red Bulls scoring twice. Also Crew SC didn't seem to have the same fire the team showed in the first two games. Maybe it was a week off, but there were certainly plenty of teaching moments from that match.
86F: Federico Higuain will miss the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps due to suspension. How much will Crew SC miss him, and who will take his place in the side?
MR: To answer your first question, the Black and Gold always miss Higuain when he's unavailable. Although not as widely discussed as some players in the league, he's one of the best at his position. His ability to create, both space with his movements and with his passes, is something you don't see from many MLS players.
In terms of who will replace him, there are a number of candidates to take on the role. Last year when Higuain missed time, Homegrown player Ben Speas was the replacement. So far this year, Speas has played out wide in substitute roles (likely just to give him more playing time), but he's certainly an option. Offseason signing Kristinn Steindorsson is an option as well. Although he's also played exclusively as a wide player for Columbus this year, he occupies a similar position as Higuain's for his national team and his skillset may actually fit better in the middle of the park. Berhalter also mentioned Mohammed Saeid, who's played in both central midfield roles this year, and Hector Jimenez, normally thought as a wide player but saw time in the playoffs in the middle.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Speas or Steindorsson in this one.
86F: Are there any areas in Gregg Berhalter's team that need to be strengthened? If so, do you see the Crew making any moves during the season?
MR: The depth at striker is a major issue, something that carries over from last season. The addition of Kei Kamara was a step in the right direction, but neither Aaron Schoenfeld or Adam Bedell have demonstrated they can be legit forward targets at the MLS level on a consistent basis, even as backups really. If something happens to Kamara, Crew SC will have to rely on goals from other positions, like they did a year ago, and it's hard to replicate 39 goals from a team's midfield.
Also, Kamara still has to demonstrate he can operate as a singular striker. He has one goal on the season, a nice finish against Toronto FC, but was unable to capitalize on a number of chances against Houston or New York. MLS fans have seen him have success in this league playing out wide, but his role is very different for Crew SC.
Predicted Starting XI & injuries:
Midfielder Wil Trapp, who missed last game with a calf strain, and left back Waylon Francis, ankle spring picked up with Costa Rica, are listed as questionable for this game. As of last Friday, Berhalter seemed confident both should be able to go, but they are still on the injury report. It's relevant because Columbus plays again next Saturday and must fly to Boston to do so. Also something to note, Kei Kamara was limited in training last week but is expected to be full go for the game.
GK Steve Clark, Hernan Grana, Michael Parkhurst, Emanuel Pogatetz, Chris Klute, Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram, Kristinn Steindrosson, Kei Kamara
86F: The Crew rebranded and changed their crest during the offseason. What happened to the three guys with the hard hats? Did they get to keep the hard hats?
MR: You'll have to ask Kei Kamara, he seems to know how to find them.
MR: Octavio Rivero, five MLS games, four goals scored. Can you explain to Crew SC fans who haven't seen him play much what's made this guy so good to start the season?
86F: Rivero is the focus of the Vancouver attack, and plays in front of the ever dangerous CAM Pedro Morales. Morales is the heart of the attacking midfield and he has the vision and passing accuracy to get the ball where it needs to be. Rivero, as Whitecaps fans have learned quite quickly, is an accurate finisher, but he also reads the game very well. In addition Rivero has incredible speed over short distances (which can catch sleepy 'keepers off guard) and can score when it is least expected (ask Orlando City).
MR: After beginning the year with a home loss to Toronto FC, Vancouver has made quite the turn around, winning four games on the trot and climbing to the top of the Western Conference. What are the Whitecaps doing well and is it sustainable throughout the season?
86F: One of the criticisms that the Whitecaps have had leveled against them in recent years is that they would find ways to drop points when they shouldn't and not bring home points when they should. This season the Caps seem to have found a way to nick points when they haven't deserved them as was the case against Orlando and Portland. Rivero has bailed them out a couple of times with a couple of late goals, and David Ousted has been absolutely outstanding in the Caps' goal. The backline, who had a pretty rocky match in the season opener against Toronto FC, has been playing fairly consistently the past month.
What we can say through the first five matches is that some of the players, but not all, have turned in good performances, but not all at the same time! Last weekend against the Galaxy they finally appeared to be on the same page as one another, and the end result speaks for itself. With plenty of additions made in the offseason there was always going to be a length of time that the squad would need to gel.
The key, for me at any rate, is consistency. When they're firing on all cylinders then they're a match for almost anyone. When they're not playing well, as was the case against TFC, then they're their own worst enemy. This is a very talented team, and it looks as though they are finally figuring out how to win soccer matches.
MR: It seemed that Vancouver pressed more in the team's last game against the Los Angeles Galaxy than they did prior. As the New York Red Bulls were successful pressuring Crew SC high last game, do you expect to see something similar in this match?
86F: The Whitecaps tend to be a little more attack-minded at BC Place. Last weekend against the Galaxy the Whitecaps went pressured them almost right from the start, but the goals didn't come until the second half. The Caps, who are top of the Supporter's Shield standings, are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. Vancouver has never played well against LA, so to defeat them in the manner they did will only serve to boost their confidence.
Injuries: MF Mauro Rosales (ankle), MF Gershon Koffie (knee)
Predicted Starting XI: GK David Ousted, Sam Adekugbe, Diego Rodriguez, Kendall Waston, Steven Beitashour, Matias Laba, Russell Teibert, Kekuta Manneh, Pedro Morales, Nicolas Mezquida, Octavio Rivero.