Scouting report: Taking a second look at the Columbus Crew
If the standings are any indication, you'd look at the Columbus Crew as a "middle of the pack" team in Major League Soccer.
They're probably a little bit better than that.
Robert Warzycha's squad is 4-4-5 through 13 games, good enough for 17 points and a seventh place spot in the Eastern Conference. It's a tight grouping with Philadelphia and New England, who are both on 19 points and fighting for that final conference playoff spot.
Maybe the biggest issue is that Columbus isn't performing well against the league's better teams. The club's four wins include Chivas USA, Toronto FC, and D.C. (twice). They settled for draws against Houston, New York, and Montreal, and lost to the likes of Colorado and Vancouver.
Wednesday's game (7:30 p.m., purchase tickets) would allow the Crew to pass the Union in the standings. However, a win for Philadelphia would create much-needed separation from the pack.
This will be the second meeting between Columbus and Philadelphia in 2013. The clubs played to a 1-1 draw at Crew Stadium on April 6 and Columbus holds the all-time series edge with a 5-2-1 record against the Union.
Columbus suffers a huge blow with the loss of Eddie Gaven to an ACL injury. The veteran midfielder picked up the injury in last week's U.S. Open Cup match and is done for the entire season. He leads the team with four assists this season always provides that blue collar, workhorse mentality on the pitch.
The Crew also loses Jairo Arrieta to international duty. The Costa Rica striker was called up for June's World Cup qualifiers and will miss two league games and a fourth round Open Cup matchup.
It's almost certain that leading goal scorer Dominic Oduro plays in front of Federico Higuain on Wednesday night. Oduro, who scored against the Union in April, would normally play wide right with Arrieta on the field. In this instance, he's likely to play as the advanced striker in what essentially amounts to a 4-4-1-1 shape.
The other option, of course, would be to leave Oduro on the flank and replace Arrieta with Aaron Schoenfeld or another striker from the bench.
In the wide spots, Justin Meram has started recent games on the left side. Ben Speas is likely to fill in on the right side of the midfield if Oduro moves up top.
There are options centrally, with the likes of Tony Tchani, Matias Sanchez, and Danny O'Rourke. Agustin Viana is dealing with a hamstring injury and missed the weekend's 1-1 draw with Houston. He's unlikely to travel to PPL Park.
If the loss of Gaven wasn't bad enough, Columbus is also operating without the services of captain Chad Marshall. The big center back has a hamstring issue and has missed several recent games.
Eric Gehrig looks likely to replace Marshall, playing alongside the Brazilian Glauber in central defense. Kevan George is next on the depth chart, and started with Gehrig in New York a few weeks back.
The status of Josh Williams is also up in the air. Columbus' right back had started 19 straight games before picking up a calf injury that kept him out of the Houston game. Homegrown player Chad Barson stepped in as his replacement on the weekend.
Left back and goalkeeper are both solid positions for Columbus, with Tyson Wahl and Andy Grunebaum playing in every single game this season.
Possible Starting XI: Gruenebaum (GK), Barson, Glauber, Gehrig, Wahl, Meram, Tchani, Sanchez, Speas, Higuain, Oduro