Match Preview: Columbus Crew v. Newcastle United

COLUMBUS, OH - JULY 23: The Columbus Crew starting 11 pose for a team portrait prior to the start of their game against the Portland Timbers at Crew Stadium on July 23, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

My freshmen roommate in college was from Columbus.  We were absolute polar opposites.  I was a loud, obnoxious frat boy, while he was a really nice kid, though kind of eccentric.  He did things like played the ukulele, read archeology books, and cheer for the Columbus Crew... hard.  He was one of the first legitimate MLS fans, and for that matter soccer fans, that I had met.  Though we drifted apart after that first magical year of academic milze drowned in booze and unhealthy experimentations, we still message one another every now and again.  When this match was announced, the excitement was palpable. Never in a million years could we fathom that our two beloved teams would meet in a pre-season friendly on American soil. 

And now that it's all about to happen, I want Newcastle to finally put on a show on American soil.  If there is one team that it would be sublimely satisfying to beat, it would my roommate's beloved Crew.  Let's hope tonight brings some joy (finally) to the Toon Army.  Preview after the jump. 

 

 

Columbus Crew

6th Place MLS; 2nd Place Eastern Conference; 8-6-7 (31 pts)

CHN Blog: Apparently the only MLS team without an SBnation blog!

Projected XI: 

William Hesmer; Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Sebastian Miranda; Eric Gehrig, Robbie Rogers,Emmanuel Ekpo, Eddie Gaven; Tommy Heinemman, Bernardo Anor (thanks to Stumptown Footy!)

Newcastle United FC

Out: 

Hatem Ben Arfa (ankle), Shane Ferguson (ankle), Danny Guthrie (ankle), Joey Barton (visa), Nile Ranger (visa), Yohan Cabaye (visa), most of the reserves (trip to Holland)

Projected XI: Harper | RTaylor, Coloccini (C), STaylor, Dummet | Marveaux, Jonás, Smith, Gosling, Tiote | Ba

Other available players: Forster, Krul, Williamson, Perch, Tavernier, Simpson, Abeid, Vuckic, Best, Lovenkrands, Shola, Enrique (?)

 

 

The Opponent

Though the Crew's record may not be initially impressive, they have held their own against a much deeper MLS than has been seen in recent memory.  They have fought valiantly against the Philadelphia Union in a season-long jostle for first place in the Eastern Conference, have a stalwart defense, and a proven goal-scorer in Andres Mendoza.   They normally run a 4-3-2-1 formation, but they can easily shift into a 4-4-2 if the situation calls for it.  This has the potential to clog the middle, meaning that we could see some pretty exciting runs down the flanks from Marveaux, Jonas, or anyone else that might be employed on the wings.

Developments

We'll cover the ongoing Enrique saga in the interesting storyline section, but along those lines, Paul Dummett has been flown away from the reserve trip in Holland to join the first team in Columbus. I'd imagine that Tavernier, Dummett, and perhaps even Jonas (groan!) will split time at LB as the team has now made it almost abundantly cleat that Enrique is gone. 

Interesting Storyline

If you haven't already, I seriously suggest you read this article. When Barton hashtagged  #mejoseandjonasnext earlier this summer, people were frightened and upset, but the club took no direct action.  Jose did something similar two days ago on Twitter, blasting the club for a lack of ambition, an was immediately fined two weeks wages.  This really does seem like the last straw in the Enrique saga, as it is becoming more and more evident that Jose will be leaving soon. For that reason, Pardew needs to hammer down a permanent replacement at Left Back now.  Unfortunately, Jonas may emerge as the best option, but that would be a frustrating and stifling role for him. Dummett and Tavernier will most likely play inspired, understanding the opportunity placed in front of them, but their inexperience is evident, especially against skilled wingers.  

Expectations

We should be able to do well tonight, but we should have been able to do better against KC and Orlando as well, so I'm not entirely sure what to think about this match up.  The Crew are a much better team (at least cohesively) than Orlando or KC, so this should be our most challenging stop in the USA.  I would expect to play most of the "starters" that we've brought, with the exception of Enrique.  I would also hope that we try to develop more of a sturdy attacking strategy that can actually be finished by our lackluster striking corps.  

Keys to Victory

Yet again, it is vital to remain healthy and avoid injury.  In looking at the previous two games on the American tour, where Newcastle has yet to score a goal, it will be important for the flankers and midfielders to create space and chances for themselves, as it is becoming glaringly apparent that our strikers are not particularly good at finishing.  In the early going against Orlando, the Toon's runs always cut towards the middle, where they were immediately stuffed by the defense.  In tonight's match, look for us to take some chances from the corners of the box, or try the long-cross/set piece game to create some better chances on goal.

Fearless Predictions

My confidence is a little shot following the Orlando debacle, but I still think we can salvage a draw tonight at least.  I think that we have focused heavily on midfield possession and strong defense this pre-season, which has been valuable, but we have got to score some goals!  Look for youngsters Abeid and Vukic to attempt to take control. 

 

Sorry that this preview is a bit thrown together.  Professional development is never the best time to wax poetic about the Toon!

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