The Columbus Crew - A tale of two forwards
In 2013, the Columbus Crew have built the offense around a scoring duo, hoping to lead the team to the playoffs - Federico Higuain, supported by the tireless effort of Jairo Arrieta. After five games, Arrieta is in an unfamiliar spot, watching from the bench.
There was strong reason to believe that Arrieta would be the goal scoring threat that the Crew lacked. He tallied nine goals in just over half a season in 2012. He formed a fast partnership with Higuain as the team reeled off a six game unbeaten streak - including four straight wins to surge back into playoff position. Given a whole season, they could roll to victory and the playoffs.
After three starts with the Crew this year, Arrieta headed to international duty with the Costa Rican National Team. It was a reward for a offseason that included time with the team during January's Copa Centroamericana when he scored a tournament high two goals and the Ticos finished as champions.
Arrieta's absence left Robert Warzycha with a decision, needing to replace his starting forward for a trip to face D.C. United. Rookie Ryan Finlay was an early option, but ultimately Warzycha settled on moving Dominic Oduro from right wing to spearhead the offense.
Oduro responded by terrorizing the United defense. One of the league's fastest players in the league was given a wide berth by the United defense, and he used the space given him to slash into the space and past the static defense. The fear of Oduro's pace also gave Higuain plenty of space to work.
While Oduro was making his mark in league play, Arrieta was rooted to the bench as Costa Rica played the United States and Jamaica, failing to see the field in either game.
Both players were ready for the Crew's home game against Philadelphia and Warzycha again faced another decision, go back to the battling Arrieta or the speedy Oduro. Warzycha opted for Oduro. The Crew offense struggled with the Union's stout defense until Arrieta was brought in at halftime.
With Higuain guaranteed to play when healthy, the Crew only have room for one forward in the current formation, and it's decision time again.
Warzycha's decision likely will come down to tactics. Oduro succeeded against D.C. United, but wasn't nearly as effective against the Union. The difference came down to the defense that Philadelphia lined up with. They were not afraid to play Oduro tight, refusing to allow him space to slash and attack.
Higuain also struggled without the space that Oduro opened up in D.C., he had to work to get free of the Union midfield and wasn't the factor that he normally is.
At halftime, Arrieta replaced Oduro at forward, and the game changed. Eddie Gaven dropped into midfield while Odura went to right wing. Arrieta battled the central defending pair of Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo, drawing more defensive attention.
While Higuain was still closely marked, the rest of the field opened up. Oduro had more space on the right to use his speed and slash towards goal. The centrally stationed Gaven gave the Union midfield more to worry about and kept the ball moving. Oduro would score the equalizer, pinching in from his right wing position.
Oduro and Arrieta give the Crew some flexibility. They can now better match up against the opposition. Oduro has the speed to break past a static back line, forcing the defense to play deeper.
D.C. United's defense backed off Oduro and it often created 20 yards of space between the defense and the midfield. Oduro could run wild and Higuain, Gaven, and Ben Speas found plenty of space. The Crew created wave after wave of pressure.
The Union didn't fall into the same trap. They kept a tight reign on Oduro and doubled up Higuain. They weren't afraid of Oduro's speed and the defense was much more compact. This nullified many of Oduro's strengths.
With Oduro unable to find space and battered by the Okugo/Parke tandem, Warzycha called for Arrieta; a player used to banging into central defenders.
Ultimately, who starts likely will depend on who the Crew are playing. A team with a slow back line would be tested by Oduro's speed. They can either give him space and give the offense room to work or they can play him tight and risk a breakaway.
Arrieta has shown that he can handle the rigors of MLS, playing against some of the toughest central defenders in the league. If the game gets physical, Arrieta is ready.
Both players have said they want to start and haven't liked coming off the bench. With both pressing for playing time it make for fierce competition and plenty of options for an offense that relies a little too heavily on Higuain.