The ever-patient Patrick Murphy of Columbus-haunted sister-site Massive Report slipped these notes to our contact in advance of tonight’s game in the town named for a legendary infection-vector of subjugation and disease, gently correcting misconceptions about the Black and Yellow. Have at!:
Hot Time: Over the last few months, the Fire have specialized in pulling apart teams that want to press them high up the pitch, which - as it happens - is kinda the Crew SC's M.O. Do you anticipate Columbus adopting a less-aggressive posture today, or is the general feeling that they're just gonna do their thing and let the chips fall? Follow up: If they do just roll out Berhalter-Ball and it doesn't work, do they have a legitimate alternative approach?
Massive Report: First, Crew SC is going to do what Crew SC is going to do. Since Gregg Berhalter came into the league, he's made it clear that this team's focus will be on what it does, while figuring out how to use that to best breakdown the opposition.
Second, that all has kind of changed this year. The team began working on a three-man backline (so hot right now) in the preseason and debuted it early in the year in a 2-0 win over D.C. United. It has been a spot formation, that plan B you mentioned. With the continued defensive issues, the three in the back became the norm and has been more good than bad.
As for a high press, I don't think of Columbus as a very high pressing team (in the way of NYRB, SKC or Atlanta). Typically Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara press at certain moments, but that's been a bit less in the new formation with one less player in the attack.
The long and the short of it is, I don't think Crew SC will change much of its tactics due to the Fire. I believe the side will set up in the best way to win with tweaks to its typical game style, but don't expect drastic changes just because Chicago is coming to town.
HT: Federico Higuain recently announced that this season would be his last in the yellow and black, and his production is well down against his career norms. What's going on with the Argentine genius? Is he just getting old? Is his focus wavering as he nears his end in Ohio? And how do you think Crew fans will remember Federico after he moves on?
MR: Actually, I would argue Higuain is having a career year. Pipa, as he is affectionately known, has nine goals and five assists through 18 matches. Had he been healthy the last few weeks, he probably would have added to that. For those who claimed he was done after last season, they were wrong (looking at you Extra Time Radio).
With that said, injuries were a major issue for his poor season in 2016 and now they've crept up again. He took a knock to the knee in training after the Gold Cup break and has missed every game since. According to Berhalter, it's just a pain management thing and he was back in training this week, but I don't expect him to be a factor in this game. He is certainly getting older, and that means he will take longer to heal, but he is still a class MLS player when on the field.
As for his announcing he won't be back next year, it's not as simple as that. While I won't labor on about it for your Fire-based readers, it wouldn't surprise me if things get worked out and he is back in the black and gold next season.
HT: What's the best-case scenario for the Crew SC over the next 10 years? FC Cincinnati's blowout attendance figures could portend either a massive future for association football in the Midwest, or an aggressive and well-funded neighbor in a competitive marketplace - how do you foresee this playing out?
MR: While what FC Cincinnati is doing has been headline stuff this year, and is pretty cool (I was there for the Open Cup game against Columbus and that atmosphere was fantastic), it's not exactly ground-breaking stuff. Soccer has become popular in this country and plenty of cities with new teams are jumping on the bandwagon (especially at USL prices).
But you do raise a good point. The future of Crew SC is cloudy. Owner Anthony Precourt, who is one of the new-age, younger owners MLS likes, wants a new stadium. The problem really is where to put it. The best-case scenario would be downtown by where the Blue Jackets and Clippers (Cleveland Indians Triple A) play because there is plenty going on around those venues, but there's no space. And space elsewhere is filling up as Columbus is expanding. What the organization decides to do there (or if they don't) will go a long way in determining the franchise's future.
Attendance has certainly been poor for Crew SC this season and that's not a good sign. There's always going to be down tick following a disappointing season, but the Black & Gold haven't been able to get it back, despite playing well at home. There have been some extraneous issues, but something must change, and probably pretty quick.
I know that doesn't answer you question fully, but perhaps that in itself is the answer.
Projected XI because we're proper football, lads
Jonathan Mensah-Alex Crognale-Lalas Abubakar
Hector Jimenez-Wil Trapp-Artur-Waylon Francis
Justin Meram-Kekuta Menneh