Preview: Crew, Rapids clash again after postseason drama

Columbus vs. Colorado

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Protagonists in the MLS Cup Playoffs a year ago, the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids meet for the first time this season, Saturday evening at Crew Stadium. The Crew are coming off an impressive victory, 2-0 at Houston last weekend. The Rapids saw their nine-game unbeaten streak come to an end at home in a 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy. A year ago, the Rapids won the conference semifinal series on penalty kicks on their way to an MLS Cup title.

REFEREE: Andrew Chapin. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Matthew Kreitzer; 4th: Hilario Grajeda
MLS Career: 31 games; FC/gm: 27.4; Y/gm: 4.7; R: 8; pens: 4

INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW – OUT: MF Danny O’Rourke (L knee surgery); DF Josh Williams (R hip labral tear); MF Dilly Duka (R ankle sprain); DF Shaun Francis (L hamstring strain); MF Leandre Griffit (abdominal strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Jeff Cunningham (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: FW Emilio Renteria (L quad strain) …

COLORADO RAPIDS – DOUBTFUL: FW Macoumba Kandji (L knee ACL tear); QUESTIONABLE: DF Marvell Wynne (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Joseph Nane (R shoulder strain); FW Omar Cummings (R ankle sprain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES:
CLB: Robbie Rogers (USA)
SUSPENDED: COL: Caleb Folan (through June 26)
WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: CLB: Emmanuel Ekpo … COL: Pablo Mastroeni
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: CLB: Kevin Burns, Julius James … COL: Conor Casey, Tyrone Marshall, Drew Moor, Anthony Wallace

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (33 meetings): Crew 10 wins (1 shootout), 40 goals … Rapids 15 wins (2 shootout), 45 goals … Ties 8
AT COLUMBUS (27 meetings): Crew 7 wins (0 shootout), 27 goals … Rapids 6 wins (1 shootout), 27 goals … Ties 4
RETURN MATCH: 8/5: Colorado Rapids vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m. MT (FOX Soccer)

LAST YEAR (MLS)
6/5: COL 1, CLB 0 (Moor 85)
8/21: CLB 3, COL 1 (Barros Schelotto 6; Garey 53; Lenhart 80 – Mastroeni 45)
• The Crew had defeated the Rapids in two consecutive games at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and come away with points on three consecutive trips to Colorado, until the Rapids’ 1-0 home win last June 5.
• Colorado hasn’t won in Columbus since 2004, a 2-1 win at Crew Stadium. The Crew have won four of the home league meetings since, with two draws.
• A year ago, the clubs met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Rapids won at home 1-0, then the Crew won the return match 2-1, the Rapids advancing after winning the penalty shootout 5-4.
• Coaches record: Robert Warzycha vs. COL: P4 W2 L1 D1 … Gary Smith vs. CLB: P4 W1 L2 D1

COLUMBUS CREW
The Columbus Crew traveled to Houston and came away with a first win there, knocking off the Dynamo 2-0 on Saturday evening at Robertson Stadium. The Crew have 21 points from 15 games on the season, in third place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH
• Columbus took the lead in the 41st minute when Andres Mendoza finished a Bernardo Anor through ball in the penalty area by slotting it to the left of Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
• Anor then put the game away for the Crew in the 77th minute. His shot from a Justin Meram was saved by Hall, but the Dynamo 'keeper was unable to retain the deflection and Anor followed his shot with an angled effort inside the back post.
• Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made two changes to the team that fell 2-1 to the Chicago Fire at Crew Stadium. Bernardo Anor and Tommy Heinemann came into the team for Justin Meram and Jeff Cunningham.
• COLUMBUS CREW (4-1-3-2): William Hesmer - Sebastian Miranda, Chad Marshall, Julius James, Josh Gardner - Rich Balchan - Eddie Gaven, Emmanuel Ekpo (Kevin Burns 85), Bernardo Anor - Tommy Heinemann (Dejan Rusmir 93+), Andres Mendoza (Justin Meram 64).

TEAM NEWS
• The win in Houston was the Crew’s first away victory of the season. Five teams in MLS are still without wins away from home this season (Houston, New England, Toronto, Portland, Vancouver).
• "It's huge, especially because we lost to Chicago at home 1-0 in the last minute," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "We said before the game, 'Let's get it back.' That's why we came out with so much energy and, tactically we played very well."
• The Crew’s third-round selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft (48th overall), Bernardo Anor was given his first MLS start and scored his first professional goal and added his first assist.
• “It was a decision before the game whether to start [Justin Meram] or put him on the bench,” Warzycha said. “We made the decision to put him on the bench because we thought he was going to be important in the second half. We were right. He was active.”
• Anor had made his professional debut on March 26 vs. New York, but had not played in a league match since. "He just came back from injury, so he's not 100 percent fit, but you can see the quality of play and what he can do on the field," Warzycha said.
• The Crew finished the game with three rookies on the field – starters Anor and Rich Balchan, and Meram, a second-half substitute. Balchan has started 14 of 15 games this season, while Meram received his first MLS start the week before vs. Chicago.
• “That’s what we said before the season when we made all the changes,” Warzycha said. “It was going to take some time before these guys really reach the top, but we knew what we were going to do. You can see the guys are getting more comfortable. We focused on consistency with them because if you are young you are going to have some inconsistencies. We are going the right direction.”
• When Lovel Palmer was sent off, giving the Crew a man advantage for the final 38 minute of the game, it was the sixth time this year a Columbus opponent had seen red. The Crew are one of three teams, along with Chicago and Portland, who had not seen an ejection entering Week 15.
• “Thankfully, we’ve been in this situation before,” forward Tommy Heinemann said. “I think we’ve learned from it. We were moving the ball side to side. There were times they were tired of chasing. It made it easier for us to progress and move the ball around.”
• Andrés Mendoza scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season, four of those coming in the last five games.
• “We need to believe in him and see a little bit of trust from the players around him,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “He’s going in the right direction.”

COLORADO RAPIDS
The Colorado Rapids lost for the first time since late April, the LA Galaxy rolling to a 3-1 victory on Saturday evening at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids have 22 points from 16 games, sitting in a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference.

LAST MATCH
• The Galaxy took the lead in the 25th minute. Miguel López placed a deft ball behind the Rapids defense for Chris Birchall, who was able to cross into Drew Moor’s path and he turned it into his own net from close range.
• In the 42nd minute, it was 2-0. Galaxy midfielder Juninho picked the ball up and placed a right-footed cracker from 25 yards out into the corner of Matt Pickens’ net.
• The old combination of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey proved fruitful in the 64th minute as the Jamaican dribbled into the penalty area and hit a low, right-footed shot against the post. The ball rebounded into Casey’s path and he tapped into the empty net.
• The Rapids, however, were reduced to 10 men in the 74th minute when Caleb Folan was sent off for a harsh challenge on Juninho. The Galaxy capitalized in the 81st minute as second-half substitute Chad Barrett latched onto a cross from Todd Dunivant, who was set free on the left by Juninho, and Barrett finished inside the penalty area to seal the game.
• Rapids head coach Gary Smith made two changes to the team that defeated the Portland Timbers 1-0 at Jeld-Wen Field. Danny Earls came in at fullback for Scott Palguta, and Sanna Nyassi started on the wing for Jamie Smith.
• COLORADO RAPIDS (4-4-2): Matt Pickens - Kosuke Kimura, Tyrone Marshall, Drew Moor, Danny Earls - Sanna Nyassi (Omar Cummings 46), Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Wells Thompson (Quincy Amarikwa 85) - Conor Casey, Caleb Folan (sent off 74).

TEAM NEWS
• The Rapids have now gone six home games without a victory, the longest home winless streak in club history. Their last victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park came April 3; since, they’ve drawn four games and lost two.
• Omar Cummings returned to league action for the first time since May 4, missing seven games to an ankle sprain.
• "Omar gave us a bit of energy, he was positive, he showed all of the qualities we've been missing in the last 5-6 weeks," Rapids coach Gary Smith said. "I felt we'd turned the corner. We looked like we were starting to get a bit of pressure, we were in the ascendancy, it looked brighter.
• When Cummings came onto the field, the Rapids went to a three-pronged strike force with Conor Casey and Caleb Folan remaining on the field.
• “It was good to get back on the field, not under the best conditions, but personally good to get out there,” Cummings said. “It was good to do that but it would be better without the added pressure of trying to get back in the game. It was good to play that [combination] at one time.”
• Casey scored his third goal of the season, all in the last four games, as he and Cummings combined for the late consolation goal. Over the past two seasons, Casey and Cummings have combined for 51 goals and 22 assists in league play.
• The Rapids were set to have winger Jamie Smith in the starting lineup, but he was a late scratch after suffering a tight hamstring in pre-match warmups.
• Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni made his 300th MLS appearance in the game, and his 200th with Colorado.
• Danny Earls was given his first start of the season, coming in at left back. “My overriding decision to play Danny was that I just thought on this occasion that he’s looked very bright, he’s looked hungry,” Gary Smith said. “He had maybe a difficult 10 minutes in the second half but, all in all, I thought he gave an awful lot and in no way was at fault for any of the goals.”
• Earls was the fourth different player to start at left back this season for Colorado, along with Anthony Wallace (8 games), Scott Palguta (3) and Drew Moor (4).
• “I don’t feel comfortable at the moment with one person,” Gary Smith said. “And that’s taking nothing away from any of those individuals. They all give something different. Scott’s very strong, Anthony [Wallace] is very athletic. I think Danny’s distribution out of all of them might just edge it.”