Nothing serves as a more defining win for a second-division club than knocking off a first division club in a cup match. And no MLS club looks to be as vulnerable right now as the Columbus Crew.
At this point, you know the story of their recent trials and travails – it is the stuff that folks make movies about. Their greedy owner wanted to relocate the historic franchise to Austin, but an aggressive grassroots campaign by committed supporters pushed the league to #SaveTheCrew, under new ownership.
The movie version of the postscript for a tale like that should that the manager resurrected the ballclub, the stands were filled every game with the grateful fanbase, and against all odds, the team went out and won the cup.
That’s not what has happened.
For starters, the Crew’s manager, Gregg Berhalter, got a job heading the US Men’s National Team. Replacing him is Caleb Porter – a manager who is relatively accomplished, having won the 2015 MLS Cup, but will need to adjust to his new team. The Crew’s attendance has been poor – only one team in the league has had fewer people coming to games this season.
#MLS Reported Attendance w/e 6/2: Atlanta leads the way with 43k midweek and a fully opened-up 67.5k on the weekend; Portland Timbers launch the remodeled and expanded Providence Park to a packed 25,218; SKC and Colorado post season-highs #SportsBiz pic.twitter.com/IyYbId8QYH
— Mike Pendleton (@phat7deuce) June 4, 2019
Most importantly, the on-field results this year have been exceedingly terrible. Columbus sit 10th out of 12 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference on 17 points through 16 games. And perhaps the most eye-popping statistic to point out is this: the Crew have just one win in their last ten matches.
The Riverhounds may be scuffling a little bit, and based on the result up till now, their USL season may ultimately prove to be a disappointing one. But there has never been a better time than now to knock off a top-flight team and prove to the world that Pittsburgh soccer can not be overlooked.
Tactics and Personnel
I could tell you that Columbus under Caleb Porter plays a pretty defensive, counterattacking 4-2-3-1 setup. But considering how many players Porter will be missing Tuesday, it is entirely possible that they won’t do any of that against the Hounds.
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) June 7, 2019
Midfielders Robinho and David Accam will probably start, since they haven’t played in every match and would steady the ballclub. If Accam plays, the Crew will release him on long bombs from the midfielders and hope can can gather one in after smoking the Hounds fullback assigned to him in a footrace. May the Lord guard and protect Hounds defender Dani Rovira from becoming that receding speck at the far end of the camera shot that you see in a Sportscenter highlight reel clip as Accam puts it in the back of the net again and again.
In defense, Gaston Sauro and Josh Williams might start, or Porter might elect to rest them, which would mean that Columbus would start a whole bunch of bench players or midfielders-out-of-position along the back line, like Hector Jimenez, a left-sided midfielder who has been pressed into duty as a left back due to the aforementioned injuries.
After that, it’ll be the bench and the reserves stepping in, due to international duty, injuries, and squad rotation. Career backup Jon Kempin will probably be in net, along with defenders Alex Crognale and former Penn State star Connor Maloney, who has all of 170 total minutes played in MLS over his 3 years as a pro. Weathered veteran Ricardo Clark will probably be a holding mid alongside Artur, with Luis Argudo on the wing.
Patrick Mullins will likely start at striker. He has 24 MLS goals over his six-year career in the league that has spanned four different teams. He’s a dribble-past-you kind of attacker; the kind of guy that Tobi Adewole or Thomas Vancaeyezeele will mark up well against, but who would be a nightmare if he ends up by himself in a 1v1 with Joe Greenspan. Niko Hansen and Sergio Santos might also factor into this game. Santos is doing better this year than in the past, but he is still essentially from the Dom Oduro/Christiano François school of “Run fast, ignore your teammates, and when you shoot, blast it 15 feet over the net” type-of-soccer. If Columbus decide they want a big-body holdup striker to try and do things on set pieces, they’ve got JJ Williams, a 6’3″ striker in his first professional year out of the University of Kentucky. If he can manage a goal in this one, it would be his first.
This season to date, Columbus have had solid defense and timely goals from Gyasi Zardes to keep them competitive, plus the above-average vision of Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp helping them out, as well as the exceptional goalkeeping of Zack Steffen. In this game, they have none of those things. To be quite honest, considering the missing pieces for Columbus, the injuries, and the fact that the available Crew players have little experience playing as an 11-man unit, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds have incredible prospects to win this game. But with their disappointing form as of late, it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll capitalize on those advantages to advance past Columbus in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Tuesday night.
Expected Crew Lineup
Connor Maloney, Josh Williams, Alex Crognale, Hector Jimenez;
Artur, Ricardo Clark;
David Accam, Robinho, Luis Argudo;
Date: Tuesday, June 11
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, OH
Live Updates: Twitter at @RiverhoundsSC and #USOC2019
Featured picture of David Guzman via Columbus Crew Twitter