Okay, so we should address the first problem with this preview.
As always, congratulations to Kei and his family on their newest addition and hopefully future Revs stirker.
We’re still going to call it the Kamara Derby but that’s because the Shaving Cream Derby is dead now that Columbus Crew SC are sponsored by Acura and not Barbasol. Since Pat Murphy rightfully dodged my questions about his team sabotaging this long standing and honored rivalry match nickname, we’ll just have to talk about the New England Revolution and soccer stuff like normal writers. So disappointing...
TBM: One day, we will stop asking why home teams are so much better in MLS than on the road. What does Columbus do differently at MAPFRE that gets them results? Beating Portland, Toronto, Orlando at home is good, but does that translate the Crew being a playoff team this year?
PM: Although Crew SC has been a bit more diverse this year -- playing a 3-5-2, a willingness to shutdown with a one-goal lead instead of continuing to try and attack, etc. -- the team still looks to play the same at home as away. The one exception to that would be the game at the Chicago Fire, when Federico Higuain was left at home and that threw everything off.
As for the playoff part of the question, I certainly believe this should be a playoff team. The last two results aside, this is a strong group with potential on either side of the ball. It was a strong start to the season and although the side is sitting on a two-game losing streak, I don't believe that's a sign of a major fall. Rather I believe it's MLS being MLS and teams aren't going to win all of their games, home or away.
If I had to guess, I would say this team would finish about third in the East. If Berhalter's teams of the past are any indication, I would imagine a late-season push to get them there that has the players and coaches feeling good entering the postseason.
TBM: Ola Kamara is good at soccer and has been impressive in the last year or so up top. But what about the rest of the Crew attacking line: Finlay, Meram, Higuain, etc.? How have they adjusted to a new striker if at all?
PM: As you mentioned, Kamara is good and has a nose for goal (maybe its something in the air for Kamaras in Columbus). Federico Higuain continues to be underrated in this league as more and more people want to write him off. Justin Meram started the season very strongly and seems to get better every year.
The question mark there is Ethan Finlay, who obviously had two great years in 2014 and 2015, but couldn't regain that form last season. He began this year brightly with a goal in the season opener, but he still hasn't found the footing he had two years ago. Some of that has to do with what they've asked him to do from a tactical standpoint, but he just doesn't look as dangerous as in previous seasons.
With that said, the attack has been good. Ola and Justin are scoring in bunches and Higuain has chipped in with goals and assists. The team has gotten contributions from other players, such as rookie Niko Hansen, and Kekuta Manneh just made his debut last week. Once everything begins to really fit together, this could be a very potent offense.
TBM: Tony Tchani isn't walking through that door, Michael Parkhurst isn't walking through that door...I'm familiar with Trapp and Afful but who are the new faces on the defensive half of the ball and how have they been in 2017?
PM: In central defense, Crew SC acquired Ghana national team defender Jonathan Mensah as well as Homegrown rookie Alex Crognale. The verdict is still out on Jonathan, as he missed all but the final week of preseason with the national team, got a red card in his second game, then was hurt in his return. He's played well in moments, but is still finding his way with a new team. Crognale has been great this year filling in with Jonathan out, but he suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago and missed the last match due to that. He was back in training late in the week so we'll see if he sees the field.
On the left, Columbus brought in Finnish defender Jukka Raitala. He's taken over the left fullback spot and has been good. Like recent Crew SC defenders, he's a guy that can get up and down the wing and is dangerous serving in crosses. His worst game, at least defensively, was the last match, but other than that he's been solid.
As far as the guys that shield the back line, you mentioned Trapp, but he's had new partners in the center of the park this year. Artur is a young Brazilian on loan from Sao Paulo, who stepped in shortly after arriving and took over that No. 8 role. He's a guy that's all over the field and has great passing range. He also got hurt in the Red Bull game, breaking his wrist, and will miss out on this contest.
Mohammed Abu is another player the team brought in to compete for time next to Trapp. He started the season opener, started in Chicago and has filled in for Artur these last two games. We're still learning about Abu and I think the team is as well. He isn't as all over the place as Artur, which hurts the team some. His passing is good, but it appears as times he's not settled or is unaware of his teammates' runs. Another week of training as a starter should hopefully help him take another positive step.