Things can always get better? Can’t they? That is the mindset of both Columbus Crew (0-0-2, 0 points) and D.C. United (0-1-1, 1 point) supporters as both sets of fans find their team winless and with plenty of questions entering in the third week of the season. While Saturday night’s fixture between the two sides (7pm RFK Stadium, MLS Live) will likely not solve all of their issues three points sure would make things easier.
Last season United earned a narrow series victory over the Crew, earning a 3-0 win at home in September and a 1-1 draw at Mapfre Stadium in July. The teams have been engaged in some very close battles pretty much since the league came into existence in 1996. Although their rivalry is not as heralded as some other pairings in the league their games are often physical and hotly contested.
Instead of a little aggression both sides might want to enter this match with a cooler head. D.C. have already committed 41 fouls this season by far the most in the league. Although Columbus haven’t earned the ire of the match officials as much as their black and red counterparts (22) Jonathan Mensah’s red card against Houston last week pretty much sealed their. After some deliberation the club opted not to appeal Mensah’s booking and he will be sitting on Saturday’s fixture.
For both sides finding some stability in the final third would help. Both D.C. and Columbus’ back four were ripped to shreds last week by attackers who can find space between center-backs. Houston midfielder Romell Quioto pestered the Crew for the duration of the match and was rewarded when goalkeeper Zack Steffen made an error. United forward Patrick Mullins showed last season that he can create chances for himself when needed to. With Luciano Acosta still likely out he may need to do that.
United also have their own defensive issues to work out. So far the center-back pairing of Sean Franklin and Steve Birnbaum has been a mixed success at best. Although the two have worked well at times in tracking and making clears they are still having trouble in catching diagonal passes. New York City FC and in particular Andrea Pirlo did a great job at moving United back into a defensive position then finding attackers wide on the outside.
Birnbaum and Franklin, along with Marcelo Sarvas, will need to do a better job at clogging the midfield against Federico Higuain. Higuain likes to spread the field as well using Justin Mearam and Ethan Finlay to break defenses down. Ola Kamara was the beneficiary of such an arrangement, giving Columbus their lone goal against Houston and a sign of life in an otherwise difficult match.
Saturday’s match will likely not seal the fate of either side. But for two teams who desperately need a win it could give their supporters some respite in what has otherwise been a difficult start to the season.