HT: Looking at the Crew's transition to Berhalter's possession-based system, what areas have the Crew excelled at, and what areas still need improvement?
MR: Columbus has certainly excelled in the possession and passes completed. They are second in the league with 56% of the ball and are tops with 82.5% passes completed. The Black and Gold are yet to be out-possessed in a game this year, including going up against other possession-based teams Sporting Kansas City, Red Bull New York, and Real Salt Lake. This is night and day from last season's team that struggled to keep the ball, so that has been a drastic improvement.
The biggest area needing improvement has been in front of goal, where the Crew have struggled. Columbus has scored just 18 goals in 15 games and were shut out three consecutive games in May. The players insist the goals will come as long as they stick with the system. They believe in the talent to score and we've seen that with five goals in three games before the World Cup break, but it has not been consistent.
HT: Columbus is travelling to Chicago with 16 players tomorrow and will be without Higuain, Trapp, and, apparently, Alvaro Rey. Who will the key players be, and what's your gut say about the outcome of the match?
MR: It will be interesting to see how Berhalter handles this situation, especially with a return to league play on Saturday. Michael Parkhurst is this team's captain and best defender so he will obviously be key to this game, but the performance of the player next to him (likely Eric Gehrig or Tyson Wahl) will also be important.
Offensively, Ben Speas has to have a good game for the Crew to succeed. He will be in Higuain's position playing behind a single striker, and he has shown an ability to create in number 10's absence. I would also say this game hinges on Jairo Arrieta's ability to cause havoc. He scored the last time these two teams met and would love to do so again.
In recent years, the Crew have not done well in the Open Cup against MLS sides, so I don't have high expectations. With the low numbers, it would surprise me if Chicago doesn't advance.
HT: We're coming up to the summer transfer window. What positions are the Crew looking to fill, and are there any prospects in the wings?
MR: As mentioned above, Columbus has struggled to find the net in games this year. Arrieta has good work rate and Crew fans would love to see him return to the form of two years ago when he arrived, but that just hasn't happened. If Berhalter and company can find a consistent striker who can help in possession, but be clinical in front of goal, it would be a huge benefit.
The Portland Timbers loaned and then purchased Fanendo Adi, who has already scored four goals in six games. A player like this would be someone the Black and Gold could really use.
HT: Even though he's likely not starting, I have to ask: Alvaro Rey- what qualities will he bring to the starting XI, and how could that potentially change the dynamic of the team (pairings, game play, etc.?)
MR: Rey certainly won't play in this game because he is cup-tied (I didn't know the Canadian Cup impacted the U.S. Open Cup either). I think Rey could be an interesting piece. Berhalter said today and last week that he believes it will take some time for Rey to get used to the style of play, but Rey said he is excited to play the possession style. I think at the worst it gives the Crew some more depth in the midfield.
Depending on how he is going to be used, he could potentially find himself in the starting lineup. I know plenty of fans in Columbus would love to see a new partner for Wil Trapp in the center of the park.
The Fire kick off against the Crew at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park. Tickets are still available, as are Pub-to-Pitch bus passes from selected bars around Chicago. The winner of the match advances to play the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL, who defeated Colorado Rapids last evening despite having three players and two coaches sent off in the first half.