TBM: Hey, remember when we played in that awesome postseason contest last year? When our teams were actually, you know, good at soccer? Those were good times, what is wrong with Columbus and New England right now?
MR: It's been quite the slump for these two sides hasn't it? Crew SC hasn't won in six games and has one win in the previous eight contests. The Revs also only have one win eight in, but were knocked out of the Open Cup over that stretch, while the Black & Gold advanced to the fifth round.
It appears both teams have lost their early season ability to get results. From the Columbus perspective, the goals have dried up a bit. The wingers aren't scoring nearly as much as they did a year ago and there isn't the proven depth the club fell back on last season at the position when players weren't producing.
Defensively things haven't been good either. The most recent contest was a 1-1 draw against the LA Galaxy and that was the first time in seven matches the Black & Gold kept the opponent from scoring at least two goals. The partnership between Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz isn't all there yet and both have made a couple key errors that has cost Crew SC.
Maybe the biggest missing piece is Wil Trapp. The Homegrown midfielder has been out since the last time these two teams faced with concussion symptoms. He is really they key to everything Columbus does. Defensively he wins balls and starts the attack the other way. His passing is on point and his leadership is missed. While Mohammed Saeid has filled in admirably, he's doesn't naturally fit the position the way Trapp does. Once he's back, which should be in the next few weeks, I expect the Black & Gold to improve all around.
With all of that said, I still believe these are two of the best three teams in the Eastern Conference. If we think back to last year, both teams got hot at the right time over the final stretch of the season, as things fell into place for each side. I see something similar happening again over the second half of the MLS calendar and maybe a rematch in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
TBM: I loved the Kei Kamara signing, really the missing piece from your squad last year in my opinion. There's no question here so just openly gush at how great it is to have Kamara back in MLS and playing well in Columbus.
MR: Okay, but you asked for it. Kei has been outstanding. Frankly, he's been better than I think anyone who covers this team anticipated. Obviously he leads the league in goals and that's been a joy to watch (fastest players in Crew SC history to 10 goals in a season), but what he's allowed this attack to do has been his biggest addition.
Between Kamara, Ethan Finlay, and Justin Meram, you have three players who have all played on the wing and as a forward in their careers. All of them are capable of playing on either side of the field and in the middle, making Columbus' attack rather diverse. If Kei slides out to the right, as he likes to do at times, Finlay can pinch into the middle, or take over on the left if Meram fills that space.
Add in Federico Higuain and you've got four very dangerous attackers. Higuain is always going to do his thing, moving freely around the field and looking to get on the ball as much as possible. Both Meram and Finlay have taken to filling in that space under the striker at times, which allows the outside back on their respective side to overlap and provide the width. This is all made possible by Kamara, who adds diversity Crew SC didn't have last year with Jairo Arrieta, Aaron Schoenfeld, or Adam Bedell.
Now that I'm done gushing, let's talk about recent offensive woes. Since mid-May, Columbus has struggled to score consistently, being shutout twice and held to one goal twice as well. It's now been three games without a Kamara goal and with Meram, international duty, and Finlay, playing on a broken toe, both a bit fatigued, Higuain has had to take over in the scoring department.
What Crew SC needs is multiple of these players hitting on all cylinders on a given night and recently it's been just one. Will the break in the schedule be the difference? I guess we'll find out on Wednesday.
TBM: First meeting these two teams played a fairly bland scoreless draw, and since both teams are in funks and need a result. What's the best match up you see Columbus taking advantage of to claim all three points?
MR: As much as Revolution fans aren't going to like reading this, I think it's Higuain against New England's midfield. Pipa is so good at finding spaces with his movements and pulling midfielders or defenders out of position. While he may not score for a third-straight game, it wouldn't surprise me if he creates a goal or two in this match.
As I mentioned above, Kamara has been held without a goal in his last three matches, which is his longest stretch since he returned to MLS. If Higuain is moving around, drawing fouls, or just drinking whatever magic juice it is he typically drinks before games with New England, Kei could be the benefactor to Higuain winning his matchup.
Hector Jimenez-Michael Parkhurst-Emanuel Pogatetz-Waylon Francis
Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Mohammed Saeid-Justin Meram
I'm going to say 2-1 Crew SC, but a draw certainly wouldn't surprise me.