The Crew definitely looked different last night when they lined up against Dallas. Football-Lineups.com has the Crew in a 4-2-3-1 while FSC called it a 4-4-1-1 (they actually called it a 4-4-2 but showed Ekpo lying deep in a 4-4-1-1. I think on attack the shape was more of a 4-2-3-1 but when Dallas had the ball and maintained possession, which was seldom, there were two lines of 4 defending. So, on attack 4-2-3-1 and without possession 4-4-1-1.
Gone also were both Crew fullbacks pushing up the wings on the attack. There was occasional overlap to be sure, which is always expected from the outside backs in the modern game, but the sort of sustained attacks Crew fans saw from Hejduk and Padullo in previous seasons were simply not there. Which is fine. I thought the Crew looked organized in the defensive phase and I would much rather see us playing back than getting caught too far up the pitch and giving up goals.
What We Learned
Ekpo is no Schellotto - It's perhaps not fair to compare the two, but if Warzycha is going to put Ekpo in the hole as the Regista, the Italian term for playmaker, then he needs to create and make plays. He didn't do that last night. Perhaps he'll grow into the position, but goals will be few and far in between until he does so. Gaven did more for CLB in the middle of the park than Ekpo, who frequently drifted to the left, made mistakes resulting in loss of possession, and was generally ineffective.
Gaven Will Come Inside - Eddie was our best player on attack, frequently darting in to the middle to create for others as well as make himself available for passes. His goal in injury time was excellent. Without his presence in the lineup we would have been woeful on offense. We would probably not be too far off to label him a sort of Interiores, a winger who moves into a central position in the attack phase.
Mendoza is Columbus' Adebayor: Without the Quality - Mendoza was lucky to stay on the pitch as long as he did. His work rate was awful and contributed virtually nothing to the Crew's effort. Cunningham replaced him in the 61st minute and was much better at finding space and initiating attacks. It's unfortunate that the latter is a bit long in the tooth to be starting every match, as Mendoza did not impress in the least. Even his penalty strike was awful.
Trade Rogers - If the rumors are correct, the Crew are shopping Rogers and Rogers would like out. Well, given the fact he is yet to break out, his value is probably as high as it's going to go and now is the time to get something for him. He has loads of skills but he, like Ekpo, was ineffective. He strikes us as a true winger who doesn't look to cut inside in a more inside forward role. Which is fine, but his service was terrible, his passing terrible, his first touch horrible. Watching the Crew in attack in the first half made us wonder whether a 4-3-3 was warranted. We weren't really getting anything from our wide play, so why not go to a shape that sacrifices the flanks for a tighter more focused attack? If West Ham can field a 4-3-3 against Man U, which they are doing as I write this, then certainly the Crew could do so on occasion, especially if our back four continue to play well (see below).
Rusmir Will See Red - We like Rusmir alot. He pushed forward in attack and was dangerous when he did so. He was also tough when the Crew didn't have the ball. He and Burns bossed Dallas' midfield in the first 45 minutes. It looks like he will play the sort of role Michael Bradley plays for the USMNT: a true box-to-box midfielder who is dynamic on offense and tough on defense. Nice. He's obviously very emotional, and the only reason he was subbed was that his yellow at the end of the first half meant RW couldn't risk the Crew going down to 10 men tied 0-0 at home when Dallas' Jackson's second boneheaded tackle within 5 minutes gave them an excellent chance to pick up all three points.
Our Back Four are Better than Last Year - Hejduk and Padula will always be loved by Crew Fans, but our back four looked better than I've seen in recent years. James and Marshall were tough in the middle and our fullbacks, although perhaps lacking the wide runs Crew fans are used to seeing from our fullbacks, made virtually no mistakes. Our defense kept its shape and made good decisions and weren't ever really broken down by Dallas. They also showed great pace when Dallas threatened on the break.
Bottom line: the demise of the Crew has been widely exaggerated. I don't see us scoring a lot of goals, but I do see a lot of tight games, a lot of draws, a lot of 1-0, 1-1 results. I certainly have hopes we can make the playoffs. If the suits upstairs can make a move and get more quality up top, a true #10 Regista for example, allowing Ekpo to go back out to the wing, we could make a run come fall. We'll see.