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Crew benefiting from Higuain's arrival
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Not since Guillermo Barros Schelotto parted ways with the Columbus Crew after the 2010 season has the Crew had a player capable of truly driving an offense or a player fans could truly get excited about.
Things have changed in Ohio since the arrival of Argentine Federico Higuain, who has made an instant impact since joining the Crew from Argentine club Colon. The older brother of Real Madrid and Argentine national team striker Gonzalo Higuain, Federico has promptly shown that he can make a name for himself and be the star striker the Crew desperately needed.
Higuain drove Columbus to a two-win week in just his second week with the team. He scored a goal and set up another in the team’s 2-1 victory against Toronto FC, followed by two free kick goals in the Crew’s stirring 4-3 victory against the New England Revolution.
The 27-year-old footballer has generated three goals and two assists in his three games with the Crew, and his heroics, coupled with the outstanding finishing of Jairo Arrieta, has suddenly made Columbus a team to watch for in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Credit for the team’s turnaround doesn’t just go to the new Latin American tandem. Crew’s head coach, Robert Warzycha, has put together an overachieving bunch over the past two years that has grinded out results. The Crew’s sudden turnaround has been made even more surprising by the fact that the team has been dealing with the death of midfielder Kirk Urso. His sudden passing devastated the Columbus squad, but it has also served to inspire them.
Interestingly enough, they have yet to lose since his passing, posting a 2-0-2 mark during a stretch that saw them draw at Houston before their current two-win week.
We will find out just how serious this Crew team is about the playoffs after this week’s matches against Philadelphia and Montreal. Winning against a slumping Union side isn’t likely to impress, but if they can halt a red-hot Impact side on Saturday, another two-win week could propel them into a playoff place.
If the Crew can pull that off, chances are Higuain will be at the controls. We could find ourselves watching Columbus being led to post-season glory by another Argentine standout.
1- SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
The Earthquakes got back to their winning ways with an emphatic 4-1 thrashing of the Colorado Rapids, with Alan Gordon leading the way with two goals and an assist. The victory extended their lead atop the Western Conference to seven points with a pair of back-to-back matches against a desperate Chivas USA side next on their schedule.
2- SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Fredy Montero’s hat trick in Seattle’s 6-2 drubbing of Chivas USA on Saturday was one of the games of the season, and he wasn’t alone. The Sounders attack is really clicking, with Mauro Rosales back to his peak form. Winners of three of their past four league matches, Seattle will face a tough test this week as they travel to Trinidad to take on Caledonia on Thursday before heading to Texas for a road trip to take on FC Dallas on Sunday.
3- SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Sporting KC saw their three-match winning streak snapped by Sunday’s 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls, while Sporting KC’s offense failed to generate multiple goals. The lack of scoring continues to be an issue for a team that has ridden its stingy defense to first place. A home match against Toronto FC is next on the schedule before the team hits a lengthy stretch of matches against tough Eastern Conference foes, a stretch that will determine if Sporting KC finishes first in the East and secures home-field advantage in the playoffs.
4- HOUSTON DYNAMO
The Dynamo are still unbeaten at home, but settling for a draw at home for the second straight match has left Houston off the pace in the Eastern Conference race. Perhaps fatigue was to be expected after traveling for a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League victory against CD FAS in El Salvador on Wednesday. Things don’t get any easier this week, not with a trip to Honduras for Thursday’s Champions League showdown vs. CD Olimpia, followed by a trip to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire.
5- NEW YORK RED BULLS
New York did well to take away a precious road point against the Sporting KC squad they’re currently chasing atop the Eastern standings. Doing so without Thierry Henry makes it even more impressive. Dax McCarty delivered another outstanding performance, even if he did miss a potential game-winning goal in the dying seconds.
6- LOS ANGELES GALAXY
It was a good week for the Galaxy, registering a blowout win in their CONCACAF Champions League opener, and beating FC Dallas in league play. They did both without injured star Landon Donovan. The Galaxy defense continues to round into form and the play of young midfielder Jose Villarreal had to be an encouraging development for Bruce Arena. Another busy week awaits, with a Wednesday Champions League date against the Puerto Rico Islanders followed by a visit from struggling Vancouver.
7- REAL SALT LAKE
Scored a sorely-needed victory in CONCACAF Champions League action by beating Tauro FC last Tuesday, then did a good job of fighting fatigue in securing a road draw against the Philadelphia Union. The RSL defense posted shutouts in both instances, an impressive feat considering the team was without Jamison Olave. With Chris Schuler having recovered from a foot injury, and Olave expected back next week, RSL should be at full strength for upcoming dates against East foes D.C. United and Houston.
8- CHICAGO FIRE
Saw their three-game winning streak halted in emphatic fashion by a loss to D.C. Uniited. Sean Johnson struggled for the first time in months, but his poor showing is to be expected after having played so well for several weeks. The Fire play three of their next four at home, and a good run of results could help them not only lock up a playoff spot, but it could also help them draw closer to first-place Sporting KC.
9- MONTREAL IMPACT
The hottest team in MLS recorded their fifth straight win, and sixth in seven matches, with a solid showing in beating D.C. United. Patrice Bernier is playing some of the best soccer in MLS and Alessandro Nesta’s return to the lineup provided a boost to the defense. Quirky scheduling has left Montreal with just six matches left this season, meaning each of those games, starting with Saturday’s showdown against Columbus, proving vital for the team’s post-season hopes.
10- COLUMBUS CREW
The Crew badly needed some attacking difference-makers, and now they have two in Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta. The tandem helped the Crew produce a two-win week and pull them to within four points of a playoff spot, with a game in hand on D.C. United. A win against Philadelphia on Wednesday would then set up a showdown with Montreal, a team currently ahead of them in the standings, on Saturday.
11- VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
Vancouver’s three-match losing streak has to leave some wondering whether Martin Rennie did too much roster tinkering with a team that was playing very well. The departures of Eric Hassli, Sebastien Le Toux and Davide Chiumiento caused a transformation at the club. At the moment, Whitecaps fans are still waiting for the Kenny Miller-Barry Robson era to start generating regular results, or at least results comparable to what the earlier version of the Whitecaps were producing.
12- FC DALLAS
Dallas’ three-match winning streak came to a halt after Sunday’s loss to the Galaxy, but there is still reason for optimism. Vancouver has endured a recent slump that has kept them within range of Dallas, which received some good news with the return of Panamanian striker Blas Perez. The bad news? Red-hot Seattle visits on Saturday.
13- D.C. UNITED
Ben Olsen picked a curious time to rest some of his best attacking players, and his decision to leave Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius on the bench to start Saturday’s eventual 3-1 loss to Montreal could come back to haunt United. What was encouraging was DC United’s showing in beating Chicago last Wednesday. Now we will see if the rest does De Rosario and Pontius some good on Wednesday when the New York Red Bulls visit RFK Stadium.
14- CHIVAS USA
For the second time in as many home games, Chivas USA was embarrassed at home, with Saturday’s 6-2 mauling by Seattle leaving the Goats doing some deep soul-searching. All is not lost though, not with Vancouver’s struggles keeping the Goats in relative striking distance. Chivas USA is ten points behind the Whitecaps for the final playoff spot, with four games in hand. The extra games won’t matter though if the defense doesn’t get sorted out.
15- COLORADO RAPIDS
Ripped apart by San Jose in Saturday’s 4-1 loss, the Rapids have now posted just one victory in their past 11 matches, leaving them well off the playoff pace in the West and raising serious questions about what should be made of Oscar Pareja’s first season as head coach. The Rapids are likely to stick with him despite the disappointing season, and it is safe to say Colorado will be overhauling the roster in the off-season.
16- PHILADELPHIA UNION
Drawing a tough RSL side isn’t a bad result, but Friday’s draw at PPL Park essentially set Philadelphia’s hopes. John Hackworth’s decision to bench Freddy Adu looked like a mistake considering how stagnant the team’s attack looked against RSL. It could be time to stick with young players to see who is worth bringing back in 2013, even if that means surrendering some losses by playing younger players.
18- PORTLAND TIMBERS
Portland snapped an eight-match winless streak to hand interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson his first victory in charge, while also giving Portland the edge in the Cascadia Cup race. With the season pretty much a lost cause, beating rivals like the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders is still important to a vibrant fan base that hasn’t quite given up on the Timbers just yet.
17- TORONTO FC
Toronto extended their winless streak to five matches after a loss in Columbus and draw in Houston. Taking a point from the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium is something to build on heading into Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League showdown vs. Santos Laguna. They must beat the Mexican champions at BMO Field if they are going to have any hope of advancing out of group play.
19- NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
New England dropped to a pitiful 0-7-1 in their past eight matches after being torn apart by Columbus in a 4-3 loss on Saturday. The Revs started well, jumping out to a 2-0 lead, but lost the lead before the half and never found a way to deal with Jairo Arrieta. Though Jerry Bengtson has provided a bit of a bright spot, there isn’t much to be happy about in Revs land these days.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.