The Columbus Crew travel to New England to play the Revolution in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday night, looking to start the playoffs right where they left off the regular season: getting results on the road. The Crew have not lost a road match since June 19, a 3-1 loss at D.C. United.
The Crew are unbeaten against the Revolution this year with a 2-0-2 record which includes a win and a tie both at home and at Gillette Stadium. However, the teams have not crossed paths since early August.
"They are a very good team. We had four good games. A couple of them went right down to the wire," said Columbus Crew coach Greg Andrulis. "That is what you should expect in the playoffs. They have an awful lot of talented guys that are battle-tested."
The Revolution clinched a playoff berth in dramatic fashion with a 2-1 win against Chicago to send the Fire home without a playoff berth for the first time ever.
Since they Crew missed the playoffs last season, this year is their first under the two-game total goals setup. The Crew's last playoff run ended in defeat to the Revolution in the run-up to MLS Cup 2002 at the semifinal stage. Under the three-game format used then, Columbus was able to steal points in both road games, but unable to avoid defeat on their home turf.
After sitting out the last regular season game to rest after playing two grueling World Cup qualifying matches, Frankie Hejduk will return to his right midfielder role. Additionally, Ross Paule should return from a several-game absence as he recovered from post-concussion syndrome.
"As long as he (Ross Paule) doesn't have any repercussions from training this week, he should be good to go," said Andrulis.
Just as the Crew are getting players back, another crucial member may be missing. Defender Chad Marshall missed practices early in the week after taking a shot to the head in last weekend's tie against the Colorado Rapids. If Marshall is unable to play on Saturday, Nelson Akwari will be at left back.
The return of Paule and Hejduk will alter the Crew's midfield dramatically from last weekend. Danny Szetela is likely to be the odd man out despite an outstanding match in Denver.
"(Danny Szetela) is a great player. It is great to have good options (off the bench)," said Andrulis.
If Szetela does not start, he would join a potent bench with Jeff Cunningham and Dante Washington.
The Revolution also have their share of offensive threats and Crew captain Robin Fraser is well aware of the dangers of defending against Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan.
"The forwards make great runs and work very well in tandem. They are a very honest, hard-working team," said Fraser. "Some people might think they are boring, but they are very good at what they do. They create a lot of chances. They are a good team."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.