Crew get defensive solidity as Gruenebaum, Higuain return

Andy Gruenebaum CLBvCHV

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OBETZ, Ohio – With the health of goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and forward Federico Higuaín seemingly no longer in question, the Columbus Crew can turn their attention to tightening up the defense against visiting Chivas USA on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

Higuaín (foot) and Gruenebaum (back) are expected to start unless there are gameday setbacks, Crew coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s practice.

“Andy’s fine,” he said. “I had to kick him out of the goal [in training] because he wanted to stay longer.”

Gruenebaum had to leave Saturday’s game at New York after suffering facial bruises, a small cut above the left eye and sore back after diving into the post in a futile attempt to stop a Dax McCarty header during the 3-1 loss.

Higuaín played only a few minutes of stoppage time in that game, after receiving an injection three days earlier to relieve the pain under the big toe on his right foot.

“He’s good to go,” Warzycha said, adding that there would be no minute restrictions for his Designated Player.

The Argentine had three goals and six assists in his first five matches but no points in the past two games, both losses.

“We are more dangerous with Federico,” Warzycha said.

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Columbus might need him to produce a few goals, because shutouts have become a rare commodity for their backline. After recording seven in the first 18 matches, the Crew (12-10-6) have none in the past 10. The last came on July 21 vs. D.C. United.

“It’s been a while,” Gruenebaum. “It’s something we’ve been aware of and want to get back to. We have team goals to allow under certain amounts and we want to stick to it. It’s going to take zeroes, especially in the playoff run. If we can get some zeroes behind us, who knows what we can do?”

Statistics can be misleading and in the case of the Crew, they actually allowed more shots earlier in the season, yet earned better outcomes. Gruenebaum made six or more saves eight times in the first 13 games, but he and Matt Lampson have needed to do that only twice in the past 15 matches.

“We have to get back to not making the mental mistakes and having the mentality that no one is going to get one by us,” Gruenebaum said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t been getting the defensive results. We can have a fresh start on Wednesday.”

The defense carried the team until the arrivals of Higuaín and forward Jairo Arrieta, allowing 19 goals in 18 games (1.05 goals-against average). But the Crew backline has yielded 16 in the past 10 (1.60 GAA).

“Maybe we've been caught ball watching," defender Josh Williams said. "We've got to get back on track defensively."

With six games left, Columbus sit two points behind fifth-place D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.