The New England Revolution are resuming MLS action tomorrow against the Columbus Crew at Gillette Stadium as they kick off a run of 12 matches in which 11 of their opponents will be Eastern Conference foes. The Revs had last weekend off, but the weekend before that saw them overcome the Chicago Fire in a decent 2-0 performance. Columbus, meanwhile, also beat Chicago in their last match, but that was all the way back in May.
The Crew are something of an enigmatic side. They haven't scored too many goals, but then they haven't conceded many, either. The creative heartbeat of the side is MLS veteran Eddie Gaven, but recently they've been getting important contributions from guys like Dilly Duka (injured for the weekend), Justin Meram, and Olman Vargas. In defense, Columbus relies on Chad Marshall, who has been one of the league's top defenders for years.
Today's Q&A is with Patrick Guldan of Massive Report, SB Nation's Columbus Crew blog.
TBM: This match could be characterized as something of a "six-pointer," with Columbus just two points ahead of New England in the Eastern Conference standings. How important is it to the Crew's playoff hopes that they continue their not-altogether-awful away form and get a result from this matchup?
PG: I think it's early enough in the season that this isn't critical to the Crew's playoff hopes yet. I think a result is much more key to maintaining the winning mentality they have had over the past month. The break helped the team get (slightly) healthier, but it also may have cooled off a team that had been on a hot streak in May. Fans will be hoping they carry over that momentum and kick off the summer strong. Otherwise, many Crew observers will think a little farther back to the winless April.
TBM: Jay Heaps singled out Dilly Duka as a threat in this game, calling him one of the better young players in MLS today. Would you agree with that assessment, and how do you expect to see him used against the Revs on Saturday?
PG: The Revs will dodge Dilly. He reinjured his hamstring and is out for an extended period of time. Justin Meram will likely replace him. Meram has goals in three straight games so he's on a hot streak and is willing to test the goalkeeper. He's not a traditional winger, he came out of college as a forward, but he's adapted well.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans need to watch out for.
PG: Josh Williams plays central defense and has been a beast since breaking into the lineup in April. He's athletic and is willing to throw his body around. He's also dangerous on set pieces. After not seeing action in 2010 and 2011, he's made a case that he's been the team's best defender in 2012.
TBM: Who do you think the Crew fear most on the pitch for New England?
PG: Benny. He's a smart player who can cause any team's defense fits. He also tends to find pockets of space as he drifts inside. That's the kind of player the Crew defense can miss, especially with an inexperienced defensive midfielder. Head coach Robert Warzycha will have to choose between 2nd year man Cole Grossman and Kevan George. That could be a mismatch.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
PG: Gruenebaum, Miranda, Gehrig, Williams, Vukovic, Gaven, George, Mirosevic, Meram, Renteria, Vargas
Crew and Revs tie at 1-1.