COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – For the second straight playoff-opening match, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha made a controversial move with star player Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Last season, when Columbus took on Real Salt Lake in the first match of their Eastern Conference semifinal, Warzycha decided to bench star player Schelotto from the start.
On Thursday, in the Crew's 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids also in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal, Warzycha opted to replace his top scorer in the 68th minute.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Columbus had been outplayed by Colorado for much of the match and had generated little offense when Warzycha decided to insert forwards Jason Garey and Andres Mendoza in place of Schelotto and Steven Lenhart.
“Sometimes in the game, nothing happens,” Warzycha said. “[Schelotto and Lenhart] couldn’t hold the ball in front. That’s why … I put on fresh forwards.”
Schelotto was diplomatic about being subbed off.
“The coach makes the decision,” he said. “He has 18 players. They all want to play. I wanted to stay, but I can’t do anything.”
The 37-year-old Argentine acknowledged that he and Lenhart, as well as the rest of team, struggled against the Rapids for most of the match.
“We tried to play in some parts of the game, but we made some bad passes,” Schelotto said. “We didn’t play well at times.”
While the Crew did not get the equalizer, their play changed dramatically once Schelotto and Lenhart left and the defenders were pushed further into the attack. After the substitutions, Columbus had five free kicks in dangerous spots and three corner kicks. Eddie Gaven took them all and Andy Iro nearly scored on a header after a Gaven corner in the 84th minute.
“We wanted to work really hard and try to unbalance them,” Garey said of himself and Mendoza. “I think we did. They started missing some passes in the back and we got some free kicks because we were putting a lot of pressure on them at the end. It was tough we didn’t get one [goal].”
The second half was in sharp contrast to the opening 45 minutes, when the Crew were outshot 10-1.
In the opening stanza, Columbus’ buildups were glacial compared to the basketball-on-grass style of the Rapids, which allowed the home side to easily get behind to suffocate any attacks. Proof of that was the lone weak shot from Emmanuel Ekpo that was deflected before reaching Rapids ‘keeper Matt Pickens.
Even with speedy Crew rookie defender Shaun Francis on the left, Columbus had no answers for the pace of Omar Cummings. And if it wasn’t Cummings breaking through, then it was Conor Casey seemingly always around the ball in position for a scoring opportunity.
Colorado also won the midfield battle and got the lead in the 23rd minute, when Pablo Mastroeni started the sequence near the center circle and finished the play with a redirect from the goal box.
“That goal was so easy,” Warzycha said. “It went through a few guys. I was happy they didn’t score any more goals in the first half.’
“We didn’t play like we’re capable of in the first half,” Carroll said. “We started well, actually, but the last 30 minutes we weren’t able to play our style of soccer. Give credit to them for keeping the ball… The good thing is we’re only down 1-0 and not more.”
The Crew was playing for the third time in eight days and looked lethargic the first half.
“The best for us, especially having so many games lately, would [have been] to play Saturday or Sunday,” Warzycha said. “We probably would have had a better performance, but it is what it is.’
With the second leg of the total goals series set for Nov. 6 at 4 p.m. in Crew Stadium, the team will have just over a week to get some much-needed rest.
Ready to Launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The new official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!