COLUMBUS – With the lead in the Eastern Conference hanging in the balance over the final five matches of the season, Crew coach Robert Warzycha is less concerned about the opponent Saturday than fixing what ails his struggling club.
A four-game winless streak (0-3-1) will be on the line Saturday when the Crew faces Supporters’ Shield leader LA Galaxy before the first sellout of the year in Crew Stadium (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Certainly a win over the league’s best team would send a message that the Crew are MLS Cup contenders, right?
“It would not be a statement that we are better than LA,” Warzycha said. “We may be that game, but we have a lot of work to do. For us, if we win it’s just another three points but how good we can be, we don’t know.
“We know how good they are. They are consistent. We are not. That’s where we’re coming from.”
The Crew (11-10-8, 41 points) are coming off an offensively-challenged 1-0 loss at Philadelphia last week, so the emphasis has been to get players in the box and to be more aggressive looking for them.
“Sometimes we move the ball from one side to the other side to create a two-against-one and we want guys in the box, but the cross never comes,” Warzycha said. “That’s a problem.”
Pressuring deep has been a season-long quandary - the Crew’s four goals inside the 6-yard box are half as many as the Galaxy’s total.
Too often against the Union the attack stalled because of poor decision making and lack of creativity.
“I think we’re getting to the point where we have a guy one-against-one on the side or we have time to cross the ball and we decide it’s not there,” Warzycha said.
The return of midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo from a red-card suspension for the Philadelphia match should help the Crew in dissecting the stingiest defense in MLS, but Warzycha’s most pressing issue is what to do with leading scorer Andres Mendoza.
In the past two games when forward partner Emilio Renteria (concussion) was out, Mendoza played beneath Tommy Heinemann.
While Mendoza (11 goals) showed his best work rate since joining the team a year ago and said he’s comfortable in that spot, he is better suited closer to goal. With Renteria available vs. the Galaxy, a switch back to two strikers is a possibility.
Or, the 4-1-4-1 the Crew have dabbled with in practice could be employed as Mendoza goes alone up top.
“We need to play attractive soccer, try to play attacking soccer,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said.
One thing is clear: the ball movement has to be better no matter the formation. The Crew dominated possession against Philadelphia but managed just one long shot on goal while eschewing penetrating runs.
“It doesn’t mean possession can’t be at a faster pace,” Warzycha said. “We’re working on getting the ball up the field quicker and how to have fewer touches to get the goals.”