The Columbus Crew remember how they followed up the last time they missed the playoffs - with the franchise’s lone MLS Cup.
Chivas USA has failed to reach the postseason for three straight years, with the latest absence resulting in the dismissal of coach Robin Fraser.
The Crew are winless in their last six visits to face Chivas USA, which will debut coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola in Saturday night’s opener for both teams.
Columbus (15-12-7) finished one point behind Houston for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season, missing out for the first time in five years. The last time the Crew failed to reach the postseason, they returned to win it all in 2008.
The Crew bring back their nucleus, led by co-scoring leaders Jairo Arrieta and Eddie Gaven as well as 2012 MLS newcomer of the year Federico Higuain. They have added nine-year MLS veteran Dominic Oduro to bolster an attack that was sixth in the East with 44 goals.
While Columbus will closely resemble last year’s team, it’s hard to know what to expect from Chivas USA (7-18-9). Fraser was fired after the club finished last in the West with a league-low 24 goals.
Sanchez Sola, a relative unknown in MLS circles, was hired in December. Referred to as “El Chelis” and known for his colorful personality, he brings six years of head coaching experience in Mexico’s first division despite having never played professionally.
Sanchez Sola has brought with him numerous players from the Mexican league.
Defenders Walter Vilchez and Joaquin Velazquez are among the major additions, although the 37-year-old Velazquez last played in 2010. Another promising newcomer is teenage striker Giovani Casillas, who played for Mexico’s under-17 World Cup champions two years ago.
“I know Chivas has Agudelo and they’ve got Kennedy in goal, and that’s about it,” defender Josh Williams told the Crew’s official website. “I don’t know much else. There’s been a bunch of turnover there.”
Chivas is so focused on developing chemistry that Sanchez Sola doesn’t have much to say about the Crew.
“With all due respect, our rival, with as little or a lot that I might know (about them), it is my understanding that Chivas’ rival on Saturday is Chivas,” the Spanish-speaking Sanchez Sola told Chivas’ official website. “I say that in the way that we have to defeat ourselves and take out that courage and everything that we’ve done in preseason and show that; the moment we do, Chivas is going to reach victory.”
Crew coach Robert Warzycha said that Sanchez Sola likes to employ a 3-5-2 formation. Warzycha said he expects his central defense tandem of veteran Chad Marshall and Brazilian newcomer Glauber Berti to play a key role in neutralizing Agudelo.
Columbus won 1-0 at home in the lone meeting last season. The Crew have been outscored 11-3 during their 0-5-1 winless slide at Chivas.
“It’s important for us to start the season on the right foot,” Marshall said. “We’re looking to start it off the right way on Saturday.”