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Eastern Conference Championship

Pierce aids Crew's defensive revival

When the MLS season began, Rusty Pierce wasn't considered a starter in the back four for the Columbus Crew. Picked up from Real Salt Lake in February, Pierce was coming into a group that included incumbents Frankie Hejduk and Chad Marshall as well as new signings Marcos Gonzalez and Ritchie Kotschau.

But once the season began, Pierce became a jack-of-all-trades replacement, filling in for Hejduk at right back one week and then for Gonzalez in the middle the next as injuries have ravaged the Crew.

"We have asked him to play right back, left back, and center back," said Crew coach Sigi Schmid. "He has done a very good job. His ability to adapt to different situations has been excellent."

It didn't take long for Pierce long to show that he deserved to be on the field no matter the circumstances.

"Rusty has been great for us," said Schmid. "One-on-one, he has been our best defender to this point this season."

While the Crew's defense has started to put together a string of quality performances, it had a rough stretch at the beginning of the season. The Crew allowed six goals in the first two matches.

"I think in the first two games of the year, we gave up some soft goals," said Pierce. "We learned from that."

They have certainly learned quickly as the Crew has only allowed two goals in the last five games.

"They haven't been the prettiest of games, but I'll take 15 to 20 just like it," said Pierce.

The Crew have developed a mindset that they will not allow goals.

"If a team is going to score on us, it needs to be something very good," said Pierce. "We don't want to give up lackadaisical goals. We want teams to earn their goals."

The quick rebound after the first two games is attributed to teamwork and going over videotape closely with coaches.

"We have a system and we are all buying into that system that Sigi has for us. The guys in back are taking it very personal in terms of goals given up," said Pierce. "We are working hard by watching a lot of film. The coaching staff is doing a great job of breaking the film down for us."

The former Salt Lake and New England defender thinks the Crew are earning a reputation in MLS.

"We are starting to develop an identity and I think that is very important," said Pierce. "When teams match up against us now, they realize they need to play for 90 minutes."

The team needs the superb defensive efforts to continue as the offense is not meshing as quickly.

"Through all that (injury problems), we have found a way to persevere. Our team has found a way to keep it in the games," said Schmid. "One of our mantras is 'give us a chance to win' and our defense has given us those opportunities."

While injuries have been an issue for the Crew, Pierce has thankfully dodged the bug this year after being beset by injuries during the last few seasons.

"Last year was a season that I know he (Pierce) wants to forget. One of our decisions was that when he is healthy we think he is one of the best defenders in the league," said Schmid. "Right now, he has not only been healthy, but has been the only (field) player to play 90 minutes in every game."

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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