OBETZ, Ohio – Defender Chad Marshall’s job is preventing goals, not making predictions.
But the two-time MLS Defender of the Year knows how the Crew’s elimination game at Colorado on Thursday (10 pm ET; TSN 2, watch LIVE online for free) will end if they play as poorly from the onset as they did last week in Chicago.
“We knew the situation going into Chicago and we came out flat,” he said of the 3-2 loss in a game that, had they won, would have meant second place in the East and no appearance in the Wild Card round. “If we come out the same way we did against Chicago and the last few times in Colorado, then we’re done.”
The Crew have been shut out in their last three visits to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, including 1-0 in last year’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Rapids went on to win on penalty kicks in Columbus after the two-game aggregate goals series was tied at 2-2.
Marshall said there has been a theme to their failings at Colorado.
“We can’t come out with the same mentality we’ve had there the last few times or we’re going to be in for a long offseason,” the Crew captain said. “I don’t think the energy’s been right. We’ve come out slow, making mistakes on the ball in bad spots and giving them dangerous opportunities. That’s what cost us.”
He doesn’t believe the mile-high altitude that saps oxygen is the cause for the lethargy, but coach Robert Warzycha thinks being 5,280 feet above sea level might be causing his players to conserve energy at the start.
“It could be because you’re always thinking about the end of the game, the last 10-15 minutes,” he said. “Maybe that’s the case.”
The goal is to start fast and improve on a league-low nine goals in the first half. The Crew were an MLS-best 9-0-0 when scoring first but led only four times – winning them all – when ahead at halftime.
Another concern is remedying the lax defense that allowed Chicago a pair of early goals in last week’s loss.
“Teams are scoring goals that are every easy,” Warzycha said. “With a little more anticipation we could have avoided a lot of them.
“We have to be more aware on the field; talk and help each other,” he added. “That’s a simple thing to correct because it’s not fitness. It’s not attitude or anything else. It’s just communication.”
The Crew will be hampered by the red-card suspension of center midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who developed into an effective two-way player this season.
Replacement options include Danny O’Rourke, Tony Tchani and Rich Balchan. Or Warzycha might use Dilly Duka in Ekpo’s spot and return wide midfielder Robbie Rogers to the starting lineup.
“We took a big hit in losing Manu, and we’re going to have to readjust,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “I think that’s been a big problem for us as far as keeping consistency in the lineup.”
His teammates have downplayed revenge for the way the 2010 postseason ended and Duka, who in his second season is making his first trip to Colorado, said such a large turnover in the roster this year makes it a non-factor.
“We have a lot of newer guys,” he said. “We want to start something new and something fresh by starting off with a playoff win.”