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Eastern Conference Championship

Crew hope additions stabilize attack

Despite the outstanding performance of the Columbus Crew during last season, it sadly ended with the major goal unachieved -- reaching MLS Cup for the first time in team history. The Crew's 2004 season seemed to be a collection of streaks. They began by losing their first three matches as part of a five-game winless streak. However, the Black-and-Gold battled back to win the Eastern Conference crown that included an MLS-record 18-game unbeaten streak.

The backline, the team's strength, tied with the Colorado Rapids for having the second-stingiest defense in the league. Consequently, it seemed natural for the Crew to trade from their strength to pick up a new attacker. They did exactly that by sending defensive midfielder Tony Sanneh to the Chicago Fire in exchange for striker Ante Razov.

The Fire's all-time leading goal scorer brings a different type of attack mindedness that the Crew have largely missed since the departure of Brian McBride to Fulham of the English Premier League.

"Ante is different type of player. He brings different types of talents to the game," said Crew coach Greg Andrulis. "He is a terrific shooter of the ball. He is very good at combining and linking with other players."

In addition to the wicked left boot that Razov brings to central Ohio, he also knows how to win. He was key to Chicago's 1998 MLS Cup winning squad and three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships (1998, 2000, and 2003). The experiences should help as the Crew look to get over the bitter end to last season and add to their trophy case during the 2005 season.

Columbus fans hope Razov can solve the team's attacking consistency. Last year, the Crew's front line went through several stages that combined to score 40 goals, only sixth best in MLS. Jeff Cunningham was initially a starter before giving way for Kyle Martino, who played more as a withdrawn striker. In the final playoff game, late-season acquisition Dante Washington earned a surprise start.

With Cunningham traded to the Rapids, Razov will be able to step right in to pair with Edson Buddle, the team's leading, but streaky, goal scorer.

"The times that (Razov) and Edson have been on the field together, they have been everything that we hoped they would be. We expect them to have a great year together," said Andrulis.

Andrulis also likes the competitiveness that Razov brings to the squad. "He is a fierce competitor," said Andrulis. "We have been very happy with Ante both on and off the field."

More recently, the Crew have added Guatemalan international Mario Rodriguez. Rodriquez comes to Columbus from CSD Municipal of Guatemala.

"He is a terrific player. He is a very good wide right player with the Guatemalan national team," said Andrulis. "We are quite excited to have him."

The right flank role was manned by national team stalwart Frankie Hejduk last season, but the arrival of Rodriguez means he could be moving to the backline or the other side of midfield.

"Every year there are changes and we never anticipated Frankie to be the wide right player that he was for us last year," said Andrulis. "As we said during all of the offseason, we are trying to get more attack-minded players into our team. I think we accomplished that with Mario."

JOhn Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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