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COLUMBUS CREW STADIUM
7:30 pm ET (FSC; HDNet; CSN-DC)
A real six-pointer awaits for the Eastern Conference rivals who, if the season ended today, would be on the outside looking in at the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Columbus Crew have just two wins in their last 11 matches as they've sank to the foot of the East, though a midweek draw at Kansas City ended a two-game losing skid. Meanwhile the defending MLS Cup champions have two wins in their last six games, though a buoying two-game winning streak was snapped at midweek in a loss away to the Chicago Fire.
REFEREE: Jair Marrufo. SAR (bench): Nate Clement; JAR (opposite): Steven Taylor; 4th: Hilario Grajeda
MLS Career: 30 games; FC/gm: 31.3; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 6; pens: 14
Games involving Crew: P6 W1 L3 T2; FC/gm: 29.0; Y/gm: 4.3; R: 2; pens: 4
Games involving United: P7 W4 L1 T2; FC/gm: 36.3; Y/gm: 4.6; R: 1; pens: 2
INJURY REPORT: COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain); MF Danny Szetela (concussion); MF Duncan Oughton (R knee surgery); MD Ross Paule (post-concussion syndrome); GK Jon Busch (R knee); GK Matt Jordan (lower back strain) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: DF Bryan Namoff (hip flexor strain); FW Alecko Eskandarian (concussion); MF Nick Van Sicklen (quadriceps strain); DF Kenny Arena (ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Steve Guppy (Achilles tendonitis)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CLB: DF Frankie Hejduk (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup); FW Cornell Glen (Trinidad & Tobago; CONCACAF Gold Cup); MF Luis Gallardo (Panama; CONCACAF Gold Cup) ... DC: MF Ben Olsen; FW Santino Quaranta (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup)
WARNINGS: CLB: DF Robin Fraser (20 CP) ... DC: MF Josh Gros (20 CP)
The bitter Eastern Conference rivals meet for the third time in four encounters this season, their second and final meeting this season at the Ohio State Fairgrounds on July 2. They next meet in the season finale for both teams, Oct. 15 on East Capitol Street.
ALL-TIME (34 meetings): Crew 13 wins (0 shootout), 53 goals ... United 16 wins (5 shootout), 52 goals ... 5 draws
AT COLUMBUS: (17 meetings): Crew 10 wins (0 shootout), 31 goals ... United 4 wins (2 shootout), 17 goals ... 3 draws
The teams have each claimed one victory against each other this season, both coming on their home grounds. On April 15 at Crew Stadium, Edson Buddle scored his third goal of the season, then goalkeeper Jon Busch made sure it stood up to a late United onslaught as the Crew claimed a 1-0 victory. Buddle scored in the 26th minute after Simon Elliott drove in a free kick from the left corner where Buddle was able to hold off a host of United defenders before turning and slipping it home.
But Busch made a number of world-class saves to preserve a second clean sheet at home for the Crew, one on Santino Quaranta in the first half and one on a Jaime Moreno header in the second that seemed certain to sneak inside the post - sandwiched around a remarkable save on teammate Ante Razov when he was trying to head clear on a free kick.
On May 7 at RFK Stadium, D.C. United won for the first time since the season opener, hitting for a pair of goals in an early blitz on their way to a 3-1 victory.
Freddy Adu showed the breathtaking promise he possesses when he scored a goal and added two assists to lead United. He sent D.C. off to a dream start when he set up two goals in the first nine minutes. After just five minutes, Brandon Prideaux was sent in alone on goal, and despite slipping it past Jon Busch, Crew defender Chad Marshall came racing in to hook it off the line. But Adu chased it down in the left corner and drove the ball back into the six where Jaime Moreno turned it home.
Then Adu split open the Crew backline with an angled pass that found Ben Olsen on the right flank, and he had the time to pick out Josh Gros at the penalty spot with a driven cross. The second-year man then powered a diving header high into the goal.
Rookie Domenic Mediate then scored his first professional goal in the 69th minute when he reached in front of a defender and turned home an Edson Buddle flick-on from the heart of the area. It was the Crew's first goal in a run of 313 minutes.
Yet Adu restored the advantage just two minutes later with a wonderful individual effort, receiving a long ball from Olsen on the right deep in the Columbus box before leaving a defender behind with a quick cut and calmly finishing with a low shot home off the base of the left post.
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-1-4-2): Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux, Bobby Boswell, Mike Petke - Clyde Simms - Ben Olsen (Bryan Namoff 79), Freddy Adu, Christian Gomez, Joshua Gros (Dema Kovalenko 89) - Alecko Eskandarian (Brian Carroll 68), Jaime Moreno
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (3-4-1-2): Jon Busch - Frankie Hejduk, Chris Wingert, Chad Marshall - Mario Rodriguez, Simon Elliott, Danny Szetela (Ante Razov 78), Domenic Mediate (Marcus Storey 76) - Kyle Martino (Manny Lagos 78) - Edson Buddle, Cornell Glen.
A year ago, the teams split their four-game season series. They played to a 1-1 draw on May 8 at RFK Stadium (Kovalenko 4 - Paule 90 pen), then United claimed a 3-1 home victory on June 19 (Moreno 6, Eskandarian 33, 45 - Lagos 90+)
The teams then played to a 2-2 in the first of their Columbus matches on Aug. 21 (Oughton 42, Paule 54 - Eskandarian 35, Moreno 76 pen), before the Crew took a 1-0 victory on Sept. 25 at Crew Stadium (Sanneh 10).
After losing seven consecutive league meetings through the 1999 season, the Crew have had the upper hand lately, winning nine of the last 18 regular season encounters (with five draws). The Crew had won the previous two season series before last year.
Coaches record: Greg Andrulis vs. DC: P16 W8 L4 D4 ... Peter Nowak v CLB: P6 W2 L2 T2
Both sides were left rueing chances missed and points lost after the match between the Lamar Hunt-operated clubs now together in the Eastern Conference.
The Crew were gifted the opening goal on 69 minutes, a cross from the left chested down by Wizards defender Jose Burciaga Jr. right into the path of Crew midfielder Simon Elliott in the area. His shot beat K.C. goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi - but not the post - but Mario Rodriguez came in behind to tap the ball into the unguarded goal.
But seven minutes later the Wizards pulled level through the industry of Preki, who came on to start the second half. He was clipped right at the top of the restraining arc while trying to split two defenders, and after a little tap on the ensuing restart, Burciaga ripped a tremendous blast through the wall and into the upper left corner.
Crew head coach Greg Andrulis made three changes to the team that lost 3-1 to the New England Revolution a week before at home. Frankie Hejduk (USA) and Cornell Glen (Trinidad & Tobago) were both away on national team duty in preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, meaning Mark Schulte and John Wolyniec came into the team in their place. Chris Henderson returned from a groin injury, as Chris Wingert returned to the substitutes' bench.
Here's Andrulis's team (4-3-1-2): Bill Gaudette - Stephen Herdsman (Ryan Kelly 38), Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall, Mark Schulte - Mario Rodriguez, Simon Elliott, Chris Henderson - Kyle Martino (Stephen Armstrong 78) - Edson Buddle (Chris Wingert 59), John Wolyniec.
"We battled hard for 90 minutes and had some decent chances. Kansas City had some decent chances too, but the moment of excellence by Preki gets them a freekick and the freekick was well taken and at the end of the day you have to shake your head again," Andrulis said. We had some subs we had to make due to injuries and that utterly affects things, hopefully they will be ready for Saturday."
The Columbus Crew saw their winless streak extended to three games, though they came away with a point after playing to a 1-1 draw with the Kansas City Wizards on Wednesday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Crew are still at the foot of the Eastern Conference with 14 points from 14 matches, five adrift of fifth-place D.C. United, six out of the final playoff place and 17 behind division leader New England Revolution.
The Crew lost some firepower in the second half when leading scorer Edson Buddle had to leave in the 59th minute after his Achilles became sore, a condition he has played through for a couple of seasons. With a game on Saturday at home against D.C. United, Crew coach Greg Andrulis said it was prudent to pull Buddle off when he did.
"The field is so hard here and he was battling it at halftime. He said he could go about another 10 minutes. He's a tough guy but it takes a toll on him," Andrulis said. " ... That clearly changed the game when we took him out. We weren't able to hold the ball as well up top. It added a lot of pressure to us."
As hot and humid as the conditions were (94 degrees at gametime), the Crew might have had a slight advantage. "It was tough," Elliott said. "I don't know how hot it was but the humidity was huge. I think it was especially hard on them (Kansas City) because they played on Saturday. We were just dripping wet after about 10 minutes."
Stephen Herdsman was forced to come off in the first half with a groin strain, which will put him out Saturday. In addition, Danny Szetela did not make the trip with a concussion, and he will miss the United match as well.
The Crew are hoping to build on the result with a now-huge six-pointer looming at home against United, the team directly ahead of them in the Eastern Conference table.
"I thought we played well. Kansas City is a tough team and they are tough to play here," Andrulis said. "We are certainly playing better soccer. If we play better soccer results will follow. Getting a point on the road is not a bad thing." Said Elliott: "We played as a team the best we've played for quite a while. I don't know if it was pretty exciting for soccer but I thought we stuck together and tried to work as a team and defend as a team. When you do that generally good things happen."
On Friday, the Crew finally completed the acquisition of Jonny Walker from the MetroStars, in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2006 supplemental draft. Nearly ever-present for the Metros after his arrival from Colo Colo in Chile midway through the 2003 season, he underwent offseason rotator cuff surgery this year and lost his starting place to Zach Wells while recovering from the injury. The Metros then acquired Tony Meola earlier this week.
After losing two leads and seeing D.C. United come back for a late 4-3 win at RFK Stadium two weeks before, this time the Fire held on for victory in a match that saw referee Kevin Terry whistle for three penalty kicks.
The Fire took an early lead, Gonzalo Segares freeing Justin Mapp down the left flank, and he whipped in a low cross that Nate Jaqua tapped home at the far post for his team-leading seventh goal of the season (11). But United pulled level just three minutes later, a neat through ball from John Wilson sending Christian Gomez alone behind the Fire defense, and he buried a left-footed strike past Zach Thornton.
But the Fire scored twice in two minutes just before the break to grab hold of the match. First Chris Rolfe was clipped and taken down in the United area, Jesse Marsch stepping up to knock the penalty home (40). Then after intercepting a lazy pass, Thiago showed some real flair, looping the ball over the head of a defender before ripping a volley over Nick Rimando into the upper corner.
Yet just after the break United closed the gap. Wilson sent in a cross from the right touchline that Nana Kuffour slipped in to head home past Thornton for his first MLS goal (47).
The Fire restored their two-goal margin just after the hour when Jaqua was hauled down in the box by Bobby Boswell while trying to complete a one-two, and this time Ivan Guerrero took the honors, making no mistake (61). United then received a penalty of their own four minutes later, Freddy Adu taken down in the box by Thornton and Moreno coolly dispatching the spot kick, but the visitors could get no closer.
United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that defeated the New England Revolution 2-0 at home on June 18, as both Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta were away on national team duty with the USA for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Clyde Simms and Nana Kuffour came into the team, for Kuffour, it was his first start of the season.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux (David Stokes 46), Bobby Boswell, John Wilson - Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll (Freddy Adu 46), Clyde Simms, Joshua Gros - Christian Gomez (Jamil Walker 78) - Nana Kuffour, Jaime Moreno.
"I think we pretty much gave away the first half, which decided the whole game. I was really disappointed with the first half because I thought we'd come here with the chance to win. After halftime I think we did better, but it wasn't enough to tie the game. We had a chance at the end of the game, but if we want to win this game, you have to be ready from the first minute. We didn't do a good job of that."
D.C. United returned from an 11-day layoff by nearly coming back to claim a second wild victory against the Chicago Fire, this time falling short in a 4-3 loss at Soldier Field on Wednesday night. United are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 19 points from 14 matches, five ahead of the last-place Crew but within three points of third place. They are 12 points behind East leader New England Revolution.
For United, it was their first goal on the road in nearly three months - but while they came away with three on the night, their defensive frailties were more than troublesome. "I think I could've done things to prevent every goal. I'll take the blame. I'm supposed to be the leader in the back and give us the opportunity to win, and tonight I didn't do that," rookie center back Bobby Boswell said to The Washington Post.
Even though United scored for the first time on their travels since the opening match at Chivas USA on April 2 - a span of 478 minutes - Nowak wasn't happy with his team's buildup in attack.
"We didn't create too many options today. I wasn't happy with the movement going forward. Too many balls were played backwards, even back to Nick [Rimando]. We have to do a better job and to connect the 1-2 touches and go forward," he said. "Defensively, we made too many mistakes which cost us goals."
Striker Alecko Eskandarian, who suffered a concussion in the Revolution match, will likely join the team in Columbus and be available for selection. "He'll probably be fine for Saturday," assistant coach Tom Soehn said to The Washington Post. "We plan on using him to some extent."