Monday, March 15, 2010

3/15/2010: "Headed To Hell"- Crew vs. Toluca Second Leg Preview

The diablos look to invite the Columbus Crew to hell up in the skies on Wednesday; as Toluca's El Nemesio Diaz Stadium is at a higher altitude than where the USA nats play in Mexico City but hopefully has less smog. Toluca are of course the favorites to go to the semifinals in this tied series and of course the Mexican press expects an easy ride to the semi's for the big boys of Mexican soccer. All you need is google translation to understand how much respect the Crew is getting South of the border in this one. But, overconfidence might be the crucifix for these devils as the Crew look to replicate their road success from the group stage.

Crew Cannot Let The Elements, The Fans, History, and Etc. Get To Them

The Crew need to throw out all excuses. Sure the playing at altitude sucks, Frankie has to say we'll get through it. Sure the fans might throw beers, Lenhart has to say screw them. Sure there players might dive, O'Rourke has to say we'll keep our composure. Sure there isn't much of a history of MLS teams winning important games in Mexico, Guillermo has to say screw their history because I have history too.

In addition to this attitude, the Crew should take some confidence on what they were able to do at Saprissa in the group stages; as no one expected the Crew to win at Saprissa's dragons liar (and most expected Saprissa to be in the Crew's place today) but the Crew did what they had to do there and now are where they are because of it. So, I believe that the Crew are a confident squad that will not be intimidated by Toluca and the surrounding conditions.

The Generals Are Back

Having the leadership back in the fold (Schelotto and Hejduk) for the second leg of this quarterfinal will be crucial for the Columbus Crew. Because if we were to march out the same lineup from last week down at Toluca I would say we don't stand a chance, but with Guillermo on the field I feel as if Columbus always has a chance.

Frankie Hejduk has a groin pull but will likely go in this huge game if he can. Especially since who knows with the CBA if Hejduk will get another run out before the World Cup.

Lineups: Use What Worked Last Week, Make All Substitutions Quick In The Second Half

What I would like to see in this game is what worked in the last game. The Crew were most dangerous in attack last week when Renteria and Lenhart were on the field together late in the game. I do not see Renteria playing up top with Lenhart with the inclusion of Guillermo, but Renteria played more on the right wing last week and that seemed to work out well. I just think anywhere where those two can link up will bode well in keeping the pressure off of the Crew and will bode well in their relationship and understanding as players, so I would not be too adverse to put Renteria on the wing and to sit Ekpo the first half.

Also, this Dispatch article today on Herrera makes me think he won't start on Wednesday and almost feels to me like a "he wasn't as good as we thought he was" admission. Maybe Herrera just isn't fit yet, but the rest of the Crew only had a few more days in camp then Herrera, so could it really be that?

However, I could see Herrera getting onto the field early in the second half if he has any fitness as a way to downplay any concerns that Crew fans have about their new big name signing going the way of Nico Hernandez. Also, if I was the Crew, I would introduce two other fresh bodies right away in the second half in Moffat and Ekpo.

First 45 minutes:

Second 45 minutes:

My reasons for these switches are purely altitude-related. I played defensive midfield for the first time in my life (just about the only position I never played before) in the Dutch Lion tryout on Friday and it has to be the most tiresome position on the field because your not dictating when to make runs and take a break, the attacking team dictates all of your movements and you're always moving.

At the 8,600 feet that Toluca is at, I cannot see Brian Carroll playing defensive midfield for a full 90 minutes. Moffat is a reliable replacement at that position. Also, if Schelotto is doing a lot of moving around in the first half, I think it may be hard to keep him on for a full 90 minutes (but he may be able to go 60 minutes if you let him play less defense). Ekpo comes on for Renteria early in the second half because Ekpo gives you some fresh young legs to start out the first minutes of that half.

And, the first 15 minutes of each half will be crucial for the Crew. The Crew need to push at the beginning of both halves with the freshest teams they can possibly have and try to get a goal at the beginning of one or both of those halves and then bunker a little more after that (ala Saprissa). And, even though putting all three of your new subs on at the 45th minute may put the Crew at risk of playing with 10 men if they have an injury, not putting them on then will put your team at a risk for completely running out of gas and the players at the most strenous positions at risk for injuries as well.

However, if not at the 45th minute mark (since halftime may recharge all the players batteries for a little while), all three switches must be made by the 60th minute mark to at least have some fresh legs on the field at all times for the Crew.

Toluca Latest Results and Injuries

The diablos lost at home on Sunday with most of their starters 3-2 against Cruz Azul:

The result drops Toluca to 2-6-2 overall over their Clasura campaign and the result, missed penalty and all, on Sunday probably does not have Toluca feeling the most confident at home and probably has affected the freshness of some of their starters. Certainly this is the case of Mancilla as he may not be able to go for Toluca against the Crew on Wednesday because of injury; as Toluca will be looking to play their starters to ensure their place in the Semi's. And, Toluca mise well, especially since they might want to start writing away other honors in their domestic league if they keep playing as they have been playing.

Prediction: Crew 2, Toluca 1- Lenhart 6th minute, Sinha 37th minute, Herrera or Lenhart again 57th minute. The Crew follow some sort of gameplan as I have outlined and pull out the shock result.

Also, I have to head back to Pennsylvania from Dayton Wednesday night so I'll likely stop into Claddagh's to watch (which if that is the case means no beer for me on St. Patty's Day since I'll have three hours left to drive after the game).


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