Five hours to kickoff. Five hours to kickoff. Five hours. FIVE.
We’re not worried that suddenly Juninho can’t play today, right?
What? You didn’t know? Yeah. Half our Dynamic Duo in the middle, you know, the engine of all this hoped-for progress, suspended, thanks to the noted diligence of always-diligent FEMEXFUT:
Some bad news for #cf97 fans. Team official says Juninho is suspended for tomorrow's opener. Red card in final Liga MX game on 11/26...— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) March 3, 2017
Yeah. Super great. I expend some thoughts on how we will deal (or not) over at Massive Report, our Crew cousin on SB Nation. And, below, we have a brief Q&A with Patrick Guldan, its editor.
All to play for. Five hours.
Hot Time: Major props to the Crew SC front office, which saved up a whole lotta Kamara Kibble and evolved its powerful but moody Kei Kamara into the 'Ole' state, a younger and more group-oriented version. How does Ole Kamara's game differ from Kei's, and how do those differences affect the way Columbus play?
Massive Report: While some fans didn't like the move at the time, and it (along with a few other things) probably had a major impact on the quick downward spiral of last year, it appears you're correct in saying Gregg Berhalter and his staff did a nice job converting what they got for Kei into other pieces that will make the team better this year.
As for Ola, he's like you said. He doesn't have the aerial threat of Kei, but he is equally as good at getting in good positions and finishing in front of goal. While still good on crosses he does his damage in a different way. After Kei left, the wingers and fullbacks couldn't just lob up balls into the box and expect Kei to dunk it like he's Blake Griffin. The service had to be more accurate and often times lower to find Ola or another player rushing into the penalty box.
Ola also likes to run in behind the defense, which was originally supposed to give Crew SC a change of pace from Kei, but now has altered the attack. Instead it's just made them a bit more pacy with Ethan Finlay and Harrison Afful making their runs on the outside and Ola as a potential option through the middle. Sometimes he'll wait and time that run for the cross, sometimes he'll try to be the first man through.
The attack remained successful with Ola leading the line, he averaged a goal every 116 minutes, and more of the same is expected from him this year.
HT: How's Federico Higuain feeling? What happens to the Crew if he can't stay at his previous level?
MR: The entire team keeps using the term 'hungry' after they fell well short of expectations a year ago. Federico Higuain is the most hungry.
Last year's injury, which forced him to miss most of the season, was the first major one of his career. He's not used to sitting out and watching from the sideline and it certainly drove a soccer obsessed guy like Pipa crazy. He's discussed this preseason how he's feeling better than he did most of last season and can't wait to get on the field. Fans saw that in one of these preseason games where he scored two goals and just his overall movement and desire looks like it did two years ago.
If he isn't healthy or his form drops off, Columbus can't afford to have a major dip like last year. The club has worked on a 3-man backline this offseason and it is believed that, while that formation will help defensively, it will be primarily used in situations where Higuain is not available. His role doesn't really fit into the midfield at that point and he isn't a second striker. Instead it would allow the team to play a similar style, without relying on his ability because others would take on different roles.
Will it work? We'll see. The team only showed it for 45 minutes in preseason and they got a goal (albeit an own goal off a free kick).
HT: How much slack does Greg Berhalter have for poor outcomes now? How would the Crew fanbase react to, say, getting trounced in their home opener by the two-time defending Wooden Spoon holders who also happen to be their fiercest rivals?
MR: It depends who you ask.
There is a loud segment of Crew SC fans that wanted Berhalter gone last year. They believe his system doesn't work and that the Black & Gold rode the wave of a great season from Kei and a few other players to the MLS Cup Final the year prior. There are the fans that believe Berhalter when he says he's learned a lot from last year and not having the three highest paid players from the start of the season (Kei, Higuain an center-back Gaston Sauro who missed a lot of time with injury also) would derail most teams in this league (not an excuse, but a reason for what happened).
As far as his job security, he's fine. Owner Anthony Precourt hand picked Berhalter because of what his philosophy towards the game and he believes in what Gregg is doing. He's given him the keys to the soccer side of the organization (and some believe that's too much power for one person) and Precourt's not sending Berhalter packing any time soon.
As for a bad loss to Chicago in the opener, I think the voices of those that don't like Berhalter would certainly get louder. Fans like to react to one game. Hell, they got upset when the team lost badly in a closed-door match to a full-fit Sao Paulo FC team a week into preseason.
With that said, Gregg will have time to build this thing back up again and if the first two years of his tenure are any indication, he'll be just fine in doing that.
Projected Lineup (4-4-1-1)
Harrison Afful - Jonathan Mensah - Nicoali Næss - Jukka Raitala
Ethan Finlay - Mohammed Abu - Wil Trapp - Justin Meram
The only change I think could be made is Kamara, who dealt with a concussion in preseason. He was back in training this week but they haven't said if he is fully cleared and if he will start yet. (Word came at press time that Kamara was unlikely to start, meaning the Crew will have to rely on the silky stylings of pillow-footed Adam Jahn.)