COLUMBUS, Ohio – Saturday is a matchup of opposites.
Sporting Kansas City’s last game was a 3-3 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Those numbers – three goals scored, three conceded – also represent the goals scored and allowed by the Crew. Not for any 90 minutes, though, but over the course of the entire first four games of their 2011 season.
Something may give in Crew Stadium (Saturday 7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) when the league’s best offense goes against a defense that has posted three consecutive shutouts, tying a club record. Conversely, KC’s porous defending may cure an anemic Crew (1-1-2) attack that has been blanked in two of the past three games and has just one goal from open play.
“Kansas City is a very dangerous team,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “We’re at home. We need to score a few goals and play an attacking style of soccer. We need to defend like we have the past few games and play positive soccer.”
If the Crew is to break out against Sporting (1-1-1), they could look to their restarts for a lift. KC have already yielded two goals from corner kicks.
That’s welcome news for Columbus because for the first time since early in the 2007 season, there’s no set-piece specialist in the side. The contract of Argentine wizard Guillermo Barros Schelotto was not renewed after last season.
So far, the drop-off has been noticeable. The Crew have not scored on 17 corner kicks – 15 from Eddie Gave and two by Sebastian Miranda – and chances off free kicks have been rare.
“I haven’t been that great at it yet this year, but I’m working on it every day after practice,” Gaven said.
The Crew have a simple strategy: Get the ball to the head of 6-foot-4 defender Chad Marshall.
“Even if teams know that’s what we’re trying to do, he’s so good in the air that if I can get the ball to him he can still put it in the net,” Gaven said.
Marshall understands anytime the Crew get a restart, he will be a target.
“At Chivas USA they had two guys on me and it seemed like as soon as the ball was about to be kicked, one of them put me in a headlock and the other one took my legs out,” he said. “I’m sure it’s hard for them to call a PK on every corner kick, but hopefully we’ll get that one call and eventually teams will see that and know they can’t do that or else they’ll be punished.”
The problem isn’t always the service.
“I know Chad is getting mugged in the box, but there are other players that can get on the end of crosses,” Rogers said.
While Gaven handles the corners, the free kicks are done by committee.
“Guillermo took great free kicks, but we have guys on this team with the capability and talent to serve balls better than Guille,” Rogers said.
When asked who’s best in practice, coach Robert Warzycha joked, “I would say me” before adding, “For the last three years we didn’t have any of these guys take corner or free kicks. They’ve never faced this pressure. Now they are. We’ll see how they react.”