Crew ready for top of the East as Sporting pay a visit

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OBETZ, Ohio – The coaches putting together the Columbus Crew’s scouting reports will have an easier time for the next four matches.

Beginning with Saturday’s home match against Sporting Kansas City (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online), the Crew will face the co-leaders in the Eastern Conference twice each. The Crew hosts D.C. United on July 21 then, follow that up with a two-game road swing to KC and D.C.

“They’re both in good form right now,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We’re going to have to bring our best effort. If we don’t they’re going to punish us. We have to try and go after them and create some chances and put them on their heels instead of us being on our heels.”

It’s all part of this year’s new schedule, spurred by Montreal becoming the 19th team, that put an emphasis on conference play and regional rivalries.

And head coach Robert Warzycha likes it. Less travel means a lessened physical toll on his ailing side.

“Finally we can take some more direct flights and not be in the air too long,” he said.

Getting to and from Columbus is not easy with layovers and scheduling problems the norm when the Crew plays on the West Coast. For example, they had an unscheduled six-hour delay in Chicago trying to get back from Portland in May.

While the travel is easier for the rest of the season, the Crew (6-6-4) have played the fewest games of any MLS side – Montreal and Real Salt Lake, for example, have already played 20 – and will have a crowded schedule the rest of the way.

“The games will come thick and fast,” midfielder Chris Birchall said. “It’s going to be tough. We’re going to need the whole squad.”

Grabbing points now before a busy August and September is vital, especially six-pointers against the conference’s best. But Warzycha refuses to get into talk that the next four matches will determine whether the Crew is a contender or pretender.

“I can’t say that because I don’t know who I am going to have for selection,” he said. “I’m hoping we can win these games but I’m just waiting for full strength so I can have some consistency and see what this team is capable of.”