The Crew’s season might look very different three weeks from now.
All summer, Columbus has lagged behind most other MLS teams in number of games played. Thus, although they’re still on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race, they have several games in hand on most of the Eastern Conference leaders.
In fact, before Wednesday’s game against Los Angeles, the seventh-place Crew had logged only 20 matches, a whopping six fewer than sixth-place Montreal. All five Eastern teams in playoff position have played between 22-24 games.
That’s about to change. Wednesday’s match marked the beginning of seven games in 21 days, a grueling stretch during which the Crew could gain some pretty serious ground on their conference competition. Or they could cement their position near the bottom of the table.
Yes, the Crew is about to run the gauntlet (actually the gantlet, as my AP style-obsessive professor Deborah Gump often reminded us at OU). How will they fare in this make-or-break marathon?
On the down side, the organization is still coping with the death of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso, which could potentially take their heads out of the game. Furthermore, playing on two or three days’ rest is never easy, especially when your roster is decimated by injuries.
On the other hand, playing in memoriam of Urso might be the rallying point this team needs, and after Sunday’s match at Houston the competition gets relatively fluffy with relative weaklings Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia and New England.
Also, Columbus might be on the verge of a goal-scoring revolution if Jairo Arrieta can maintain the sterling form of his first four matches. And additional firepower is coming soon in the form of Designated Player Federico Higuain, who is likely to travel to Houston with the Crew this weekend.
Higuain is the brother of Real Madrid star Gonzalo Higuain, and they’re the sons of professional soccer player Jorge Higuain. So if you’re following the parallels to the Manning family: Jorge is Archie in this situation, and Gonzalo is Peyton. Crew fans can only hope the less-heralded Federico turns out to be more like Eli (who has arguably a better career than Peyton) than that other Manning brother who played wide receiver at Ole Miss and was never heard from again.