Defending champion Crew facing postseason elimination
Columbus Crew vs. Real Salt LakeThursday, 8pm at Crew StadiumGame 1: RSL 1, Crew 0Players to watchColumbusForward Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Because the Crew are entering the game in need of two goals to advance, Crew coach Robert Warzycha must employ his top goal scorer if the Crew wish to advance.Real Salt Lake Goalkeeper Nick Rimando.Real Salt Lake knows that the Crew will be pulling out all the stops when it comes to scoring goals. Rimando will surely face an onslaught for the Crew forwards, especially if the game is scoreless late.Key to the MatchWith the Crew already in a one-goal hole, Warzycha must employ his top goal scoring lineup. They don’t have the luxury of playing their usual game, as they must score at least two goals to advance. The Columbus Crew are losing 1-0 in their second playoff game of the season and the referee hasn’t yet blown the opening whistle.The first-round format in the MLS Cup playoffs features a home and home series in which the winner is determined by which team scores a higher total of goals over a two-game stretch.This makes it effectively a 180-minute match where the half-time is days, not minutes.The Crew will take the field Thursday evening in the hole. Their play as of late does not easily lend itself to confidence in their ability to dig themselves out. They don’t even appear to be using all of their shovels.Columbus coach Robert Warzycha’s constant lineup shifting has been well documented this season. Last season’s MLS MVP and current Crew leading scorer, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, has been kept out of games when the opponent has artificial turf.Imagine, by way of comparison, if Jim Tressel had held Beanie Wells out of a game against Penn State because they don’t play on FieldTurf.Warzycha will need to put his best goal-scoring combination on the field without sacrificing the integrity of the defense.When asked about sitting his top goal scorer in the first match against Real Salt Lake, the Crew’s first round opponent, Warzycha simply said he wanted to try something new.“We didn’t score any goals in the last five games when they were on the field,” Warzycha said about Schelotto and Crew forward Alejandro Moreno. “I thought we’d go with a different combination.”Even the opposing coach appeared surprised by Warzycha’s decision to sit Schelotto, but that didn’t make him unhappy about the turn of events.“I don’t know what’s going on inside of their locker room,” Kreis said. “I don’t have all the information that goes into the decision, but we’re feeling good about it.”Regardless of the reason for the 1-0 victory, RSL forward Robbie Findley can smell the blood in the water.“We’ve been talking all week about this home game being our chance to get out on top,” Findley said. “Now we’ve got to go over there for a tough game, a hard-fought game, and now we’ve got to leave it all on the field.”Columbus will run onto the field at Crew Stadium Thursday night knowing they have their work cut out for them. A one-goal victory, such as they’ve recorded eight times this season, will not suffice. Fans can hope they won’t make the task more difficult on themselves by leaving their biggest producers off the field.Crew captain and defender Frankie Hejduk isn’t sounding an alarm just yet.“[Being down a goal] doesn’t change anything,” Hejduk said. “We’re going to come out firing and we’re pretty solid at home, so we’re not too worried about it.”Somebody had better start worrying about it. Otherwise, the Crew’s road to a repeat will come to an unhappy end.