The New England Revolution will look to continue their burgeoning winning streak at home on Saturday afternoon when Columbus Crew SC comes calling. We caught up with Pat Murphy from Massive Report to get an idea of how things are shaping up in Ohio this year.
TBM: Seems like it's been a slow, up-and-down start for Crew SC in 2015. What do you think has contributed to that? The competition has been stiff, but do you think the performance against some of the league's better teams is encouraging or worrying for Crew SC's playoff hopes?
I think there are a few reasons things have been up and down. First has been the schedule. The Black and Gold played the first two weeks of the season - dominating both games, winning one - before a week off. Crew SC's play against the New York Red Bulls was disappointing and then they had 10 days before their next game. They come into this contest having played on Wednesday, a mediocre performance. It's not something the team is complaining about, but the inconsistent games haven't helped the team build cohesion.
Another issue has been the changes forced on head coach Gregg Berhalter. Through four games this season, he is yet to roll out the same starting XI. There have been suspensions, injuries, and national team call-ups. Obviously this is part of the MLS season, but it's strange to see it impact a team so much early in the year.
I would say the performances have been eye-opening. Those in Columbus have seen the team play really well, like they expected out of them heading into the season. The performance against New York was a head scratcher and the last game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, where the team played very defensive, didn't help to itch that scratch.
TBM: The most recent injury report shows Wil Trapp as questionable. He's so key to the Crew SC's midfield - do you think he plays? If not, how do the Crew cope? Give us a little breakdown of the difference between Crew SC with Trapp and without, if you can.
Trapp's status has been changed to doubtful, as he is evidently dealing with concussion-like symptoms, which is why he was pulled from the Vancouver game at halftime. The team has sent him to an expert in Columbus and now has him seeing the top specialist for concussions while in Boston, so I doubt he plays in this one.
Without him, the team doesn't have the same natural flow to the game. Trapp not only does a lot of the dirty work, getting back defensively to provide cover when the outside backs get forward, but also really connects things in the middle of the park. Trapp and Tony Tchani developed a nice partnership last year, but have only played one and half games together this season.
As for what they do without Trapp, new addition Mohammed Saeid steps in. Saeid is built similar to Trapp, but isn't as comfortable in the role. This isn't to say Saeid hasn't played well, because he has, but Trapp played a similar role in college and therefore has a familiarity with the expectations.
TBM: People are starting to call this a serious rivalry. The animosity certainly seems to be there on the field - I don't think anybody on either team particularly likes one another, at least for that 90 minutes. Do Crew SC fans see it that way, too, or do you think it's just a product of a lot of games with high stakes in a short period of time?
I would say it's becoming a rivalry from both sides. The regular season games last year were certainly contentious and close and the contentious part carried over to the playoffs. Crew SC fans certainly haven't forgotten that New England knocked them out and many think of the Revs as the only team that could have kept them from playing in MLS Cup.
I would say that most fans in Columbus are excited for these games, hoping Crew SC can get a little bit of revenge for last year.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
If Saeid starts over Trapp, he is one, but another player would be Hernan Grana. The former Boca Juniors right back left Argentina after struggling to fit in with the side's style. He's come to Columbus and had a solid start to his MLS career, getting forward in Berhalter's system as one of the best crossers statistically in the league heading into this week.
Grana was held out of the midweek game, so he should be fresh and ready to go against New England. Fans will see him getting down the outside, but he also has a knack of coming centrally and getting in dangerous spots. He scored two goals in preseason, one from inside the six-yard box - not on a set piece.
At least, he's fun to watch bombing forward in a similar mold to former Crew SC right back Frankie Hejduk.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
It will be intersting to see what Berhalter elects to do with the starting lineup. He rested some players on Wednesday, but it's uncertain if others will get rested in this one. I would assume he goes with his strongest lineup in spite of fatigue, in an attempt to get three points against an Eastern Conference opponent and budding rival.
Hernan Grana-Michael Parkhurst-Emanuel Pogatetz-Waylon Francis
Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Mohammed Saeid-Justin Meram