While it may seem like a short turn around since the Columbus Crew and the Houston Dynamo last faced off, there have been a few significant events since then. The Dynamo found their second road win of the season in Kansas City and also saw a number of players go down to injury. We talked with Pat Murphy from Massive Report to get an idea about what's changed on their end to preview the match with a bit of perspective.
Dynamo Theory: I think it's quite clear that this is a big game for both teams. With a win, the Dynamo gain ground towards that final playoff spot. For the Crew, 3 points means a better seed and it puts some space between them and the hungry teams beneath them. While the Crew have been one of the more dominant teams in recent weeks, their road form remains an issue for them as they've notched only 3 of their 9 wins on the road (1 road win better than the Dynamo). How does the Crew remedy that in a relatively tough place to play?
Massive Report: I think it will be really interesting to see how the Crew do on the road in this game. The Black and Gold had two great home wins - 4-1 over the LA Galaxy and the 3-0 win over Houston - before going on the road to take on the Montreal Impact. Everyone involved with the Crew expected a similar performance, but they didn't exactly replicate that.
I think there are two things that are important going into this one and they go hand-in-hand. The first is the pace of play. Generally Columbus is better when a game is going faster and everyone is moving. Teams that have had success against the Crew, home or away, have slowed the game down and gotten numbers behind the ball. Second is the first goal. The Black and Gold are 7-1-2 this season when they open the scoring and only 2-8-5 when they concede first. With the way head coach Gregg Berhalter wants to play, it is much easier to control the game and possess the ball when leading rather than chasing the game.
If they can keep the pace of the game high and get the first goal, there is a good chance Columbus can leave Houston with a result. If not, that road record will likely get worse.
DT: The Crew just recently signed Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz to help keep things together in the back. How does he compare to former Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez who recently signed with Palermo? Could we see Pogatetz play against the Dynamo?
MR: To be honest, the comparison between Pogatetz and Gonzalez stops with them both being center backs, as they are rather different as players. Pogatetz's nickname is Mad Dog due to his rugged and aggressive style. When Berhalter described him, it almost sounded like an enforcer in hockey and that is similar to what I remember of his time at Middlesbrough.
Gonzalez on the other hand was a smooth defender. He had a knack of being at the right place at the right time and making the clean tackle. While he could be fiery, it wasn't often reflected in his play. This is not to say that Pogatetz will be constantly in the referee's book, but he plays with a bit more reckless abandon.
In terms of seeing him this weekend, I would highly doubt it. Berhalter said today he's hopeful Pogatetz arrives on Thursday (there were some issues at the embassy) so it would be a tough ask for him to suit up in Houston two days later. Berhalter also said he thinks it will take him a couple of weeks to get acclimatized to the Crew's style of play, but was quick to say he will contribute this year.
DT: The Crew has scored 10 goals in 4 games including an embarrassing 3-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Justin Meram has been a huge part of this scoring surge as he's found the net 6 times in his last 5 games. How important is it for the Dynamo to slow or stop Meram and the Crew's other offensive weapons in this game?
MR: This may go without saying, but I don't think Houston can win if they don't at least slow down the Columbus attack on Saturday. The goals have been flowing recently, but the Black and Gold were shutout against Montreal last time they took to the road.
Meram certainly has been the hot hand recently, but he is not the only dangerous player for the Crew. Obviously Federico Higuain is always a threat to score. Ethan Finlay opposite Meram was on a tear earlier this season and although he his scoring pace has slowed down over the last several games, he continues to get in dangerous positions. Both Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez are nearly fully fit and either, or both, should see time this weekend. Both of them have proven capable of finding the back of the net. The Crew will also get back their central midfield pairing of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani this week, after they both were suspended with yellow card accumulation last game. Neither has scored this season, but Tchani has recently been dangerous on set pieces (about time with his build) and Trapp's passing certainly helps generate attacks.
You may have noticed I mentioned no forwards in that mix. That's simply because we haven't seen the goal scoring threat from them this year. Jairo Arrieta was the man early, but he wasn't consistent enough. Adam Bedell was leading the line for several games, but had an appendectomy last Sunday. Aaron Schoenfeld scored at will while on loan with the USL Pro's Dayton Dutch Lions and has demonstrated the ability to do it at the MLS level, but it is about consistency with him as well. If the Dynamo can focus on some of the other guys, a forward may be able to get one, but that has not been the main threat this year.
I would think the lineup would be: Clark; Gehrig, Parkhurst, Wahl, Francis;Finlay, Tchani, Trapp, Merram; Higuain; Schoenfeld
Prediction: I'll say 1-1, but I don't feel great about that.
For my answers to Pat's questions head on over to Massive Report to check them out!