Road-weary Crew looking to break Pacific jinx at Portland
OBETZ, Ohio — The ultimate moment in Columbus Crew history came on the West Coast, when they won the 2008 MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., by a 3-1 margin over the New York Red Bulls.
It’s fitting that the triumph came over an Eastern Conference rival, as since then the Crew have struggled when playing within sight of the Pacific.
In the past three seasons they are 1-4-5 and have been outscored 16-11 on trips to the West Coast. A fifth loss (2-1) came in last year’s US Open Cup final at Seattle. And just last week, the Crew’s seven-game unbeaten streak was stopped with a 3-0 defeat at San Jose.
“We can’t let that be a reason why we’re not at our best,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said of the travel. “Even if we go out west we can play very good soccer just like we do at home.”
The Crew (3-2-4) have another opportunity Saturday to shake their West Coast woes, but it will be a formidable task. Columbus have their first-ever meeting against the expansion Portland Timbers (11 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), who boast a 4-0-0 record at JELD-WEN Field — the only unblemished home mark in the league.
“It’s never easy to play away from home, especially with a long flight,” defender Josh Gardner sad. “Your body has to adjust pretty quickly, but if you don’t get up for a game you shouldn’t be playing anyway.”
While the Timbers (4-3-2) have outscored visiting teams 9-4, the Crew are 0-2-2 on the road with two goals scored and seven allowed. League-wide, teams traveling three time zones this season are 1-14-12 and have been outscored 40-17, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“I don’t find that stat hard to believe at all,” Gaven said. “It’s tough making that long flight then having to play late at night.”
The Crew have gone six MLS games (three ties and three losses) and nearly two years since winning on the West Coast — 3-0 win against San Jose at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Aug. 8, 2009.
Coach Robert Warzycha would gladly take three goals to stymie criticism of an offense that has just eight tallies on the season, ranking 17th in MLS. Worse, the Crew are the only team not to score in the first half this season.
“It would be nice to get some goals early,” Gaven said. “It would take a lot of pressure off the defense. It’s definitely something that’s on the team’s mind.”
Adding to the challenge is the game will start at 11 pm Columbus time. Adapting to the time change is one reason the Crew always fly to West Coast games two days prior to kickoff.
Some players try to stay up late upon their arrival to acclimate quicker.
“That’s not me,” said Gaven, whose wife, Paula, had their first child, Zachary Edward, on April 27. “I go to sleep whenever I’m tired, to be honest with you. Nowadays with my kid it’s usually every single moment.”