New England Soccer Today

Scouting the Opposition: A Look at the Columbus Crew with Matthew Bernhardt

Prior to each match, New England Soccer Today will invite a reporter from the other side to provide insight regarding the Revolution’s next opponent.

This week, Columbus Crew Examiner Matthew Bernhardt shared his thoughts on the state of the Columbus Crew and what the Revs can expect when they face the Crew at Gillette Stadium on Saturday Night.

What is the Columbus Crew’s form lately? How have they been on the road?

Matthew: Columbus has stumbled a bit recently, with the toll of pursuing three different trophies starting to show. The team has lost two consecutive league games by a combined 7-1 score (1-3 at Los Angeles, followed by 0-4 at home to Seattle). However, the team currently leads their Champions League group, and has enjoyed considerable success against Eastern Conference opposition.

The Columbus Crew travel to take on the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. on Saturday at 7:30PM.

On the road, if the standard is that teams should draw their road games, then the Crew are four points ahead with a 4-4-4 record. The only teams to do better away from home in MLS are Los Angeles (11 points up, 7-3-3 record) and Dallas (five points up, 3-8-1 record).

What is their likely starting 11 tonight? Any key injuries?

Matthew: The Crew will field a somewhat fluid formation which may closely resemble a 4-4-2 at times. William Hesmer has started every league game this year, and the defense in front of him will probably feature Frankie Hejduk at right back, Andy Iro and Eric Brunner as twin center backs, with rookie Shaun Francis on the left. Brian Carroll will start at defensive midfield, with Kevin Burns or Adam Moffat playing central midfield. Emmanuel Ekpo and Eddie Gaven will swap throughout the game, but Ekpo will generally play on the right while Gaven runs the left. My gut feeling is that Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart will start at forward as both Mendoza and Schelotto probably need some rest. However, don’t be surprised if either of those players make it into the starting lineup.

A number of players for the Crew have been either injured, or nursing problems that occasionally force them to miss games. Robbie Rogers is still recovering from surgery, while Chad Marshall has been described as suffering neck spasms after being kicked in the head against Santos. Gino Padula and Danny O’Rourke have also been battling injuries and have not travelled to Boston.

What do you feel are the Crew’s weaknesses that opponents have been able to exploit?

Matthew: The Crew’s flank play has been a surprising weakness this season, particularly the left side of the defense. Gino Padula, so solid the last few years, has been hampered this year by injuries, and Shaun Francis has made some mistakes that spring from his inexperience. In the center, while Andy Iro has improved in leaps and bounds over his play from previous years, Eric Brunner has been surprisingly inconsistent with a serious gaffe or two in many games.

The central midfield has been a bit soft for Columbus, with Adam Moffat recently being replaced at times by Kevin Burns. Neither player has taken the reins of the midfield, however.

Like many teams, the Crew’s forward corps has slightly underperformed, particularly those players who signed with the club this year. While Steven Lenhart (9 goals in all competitions) and Guillermo Barros Schelotto (10 goals) have each been productive, the team has already parted ways with their highest profile off-season signing, Sergio Herrera. Other creative players who joined the team during the year, such as Leandre Griffit or Emilio Renteria, have had a hard time getting off the bench to play significant minutes.

What seem to be the Crew’s strengths this season?

Matthew: It seems odd to say for a team that sits in first place in their conference, but this year’s Crew does not seem as strong as it has been in the past. Certainly the pairing of Chad Marshall, Andy Iro and William Hesmer is formidable in defense, while Marshall and Iro can both do damage from free kicks and set pieces. Andy Iro has been particularly effective here, with five goals in all competitions (three in the league).

The midfield may not be as strong as many fans would like, but Eddie Gaven has been quietly consistent and productive this year, frequently drifting into the center of the field to try organizing the play in lieu of a commanding presence behind the forwards.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto has continued to be dangerous, both from the run of play and from free kicks. He has 10 goals and 9 assists in all competitions this year to lead the team, even though he is no longer a Designated Player. Steven Lenhart can be extremely frustrating at times during any game, but statistically he is having a career year with nine goals. While Renteria has had trouble finding playing time, he is tied for second in league scoring with four goals. He and new signing Andres Mendoza have shown some tantalizing chemistry over the last few games, which could prove fun to watch come playoff time.

What players should fans keep an eye on tonight?

Matthew: Emmanuel Ekpo is capable of dribbling through tight spaces at a moment’s notice, so his runs have proven quite problematic for opposing teams. Similarly, if Leandre Griffit or Dilly Duka make an appearance in midfield, each has shown some dramatic individual skill that should prove entertaining for neutral observers.

It is also no secret that part of the Crew’s game plan is to draw fouls around the penalty area, setting up free kicks from Guillermo Barros Schelotto. When this happens, watch for Andy Iro and Chad Marshall to sneak forward and try to win headers at the far post.

Shaun Francis has great speed, and has caused confusion among some opposing teams when he embarks up the Crew’s left flank.

Any closing comments?

Matthew: If the Crew are to have any hope of retaining their Supporters Shield and become the first team in MLS history to win the trophy in three consecutive years, they have to defeat the Revolution. However, the injuries are starting to pile up and the team’s continued involvement in both the Open Cup and the Champions League means that many players are battling fatigue.

It will be interesting to see if the players can remember the example set for them by Santos on Tuesday. During the course of that game, the players on the field did a remarkable job of adapting to their opposition, switching from a blood-and-thunder attack that was liable to lose possession easily, to a calmer, possession-oriented style that culminated with the players holding the ball for two and a half minutes in stoppage time in the right offensive channel. If the players can remember how to play like that, the Revolution could be in for a long night.

Matt Bernhardt’s coverage of the Columbus Crew can be seen at and You can follow him on Twitter at @bernhardtsoccer, or Facebook at

Leave a Reply