D.C. United versus Columbus Crew SC preview

D.C. United  may have had their biggest win on Saturday night. But it was still just one win. 

After D.C. United’s 4-1 thrilling defeat of Orlando City SC one might have expected the club to have a little bit of down time. You know, go museum hopping, check out Rock Creek Park, and grab a pint at The Pug on H Street. But with a Wednesday night match on the docket with Columbus Crew SC (7pm EST NewsChannel 8, TWSC-OH, My TV Columbus, MLS Live) there is no time for sight-seeing or partying.

“Yeah, this was important. I said earlier this week that we want to try to take care of business as early as we can,” said D.C. United coach Ben Olsen after Saturday’s match
We don’t want to leave it until that last game at Orlando. We don’t want it to have to mean anything. Tonight was a good result. We’ve got to try to grow on this and keep jumping in the standings if we can.”

United will hope that their growth will continue on the attacking end against the Crew on Wednesday. In their first and only match this season, United pulled off a 1-1 draw thanks to a late goal from Fabian Espindola. Despite their late result earlier this season at Mapfre Stadium United have struggled to get results against their fellow MLS original rivals. The Red and the Black have won just once in their last nine meetings, a 2-0 win at home last May.

Despite having started the season very poorly, Crew SC have run into a bit of luck recently.  After winning just three of their first twenty-two matches Gregg Berhalter’s side have won four of their past seven matches. Their improved form put them at least on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. The 2015 MLS Cup runners-up (7-11-11, 32 points) are currently five points shy of United (8-9-13, 37 points) for the sixth and final spot in the East.

So what is the cause for their change in form? In part it seems to be due to the play of midfielder Tony Tchani. Without Federico Higuain (hernia) and Wil Trapp (head injury), Berhalter has handed over the reigns of the Crew SC center to Tchani.

As opposed to earlier in the season where the club really struggled to connect passes to their forwards, Tchani’s ability to press the opponent’s defensive midfield has led to additional scoring chances. Columbus have only been shutout once in their past fifteen matches (a 3-0 loss to Toronto FC back in July) and have regained some of their credibility lost from their early season swoon. Credit should also go to Ola Kamara (15 goals) who stepped in after the Kei Kamara debacle and has become one of the most goal-scorers in MLS.

If United are to get their second consecutive victory this season it will be because of Rob Vincent. Vincent, who will likely start in place of the injured Marcelo Sarvas, worked well in the defensive midfield in Saturday’s victory over Orlando. Vincent doesn’t have the tackling ability that Marcelo possesses. However he can read attacks very well and helped start counter-attacks when necessary. If he can disrupt Tchani’s rhythm then D.C. will likely be able to keep the score low.

The other player to keep an eye on is Nick De Leon. Olsen used De Leon as a right-back on Saturday night and for the most part it was a success. Despite facing one of the fastest players in the league in Kevin Molino, De Leon matched his pace and kept him in check for large portions of the match. Considering that Columbus likes to use Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay on the outside to break down defenses one could envision Olsen experimenting with De Leon on the defense one more time.

Crew SC’s wide play has bothered United in recent seasons in part due to D.C. being so reliant on the counter-attack. But with Olsen’s side venturing more into the center of the pitch more with Luciano Acosta it will be interesting to see if Columbus can adapt their style of play.