Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha knows just what it's like to play three games a week.
Columbus endured a draining 0-0 tie in the heat and humidity at Houston on July 10 and then used the same lineup for a midweek 1-0 home loss to Kansas City. Warzycha tweaked the first XI this past Saturday vs. New York, most notably with the insertion of forward Emilio Renteria, and the Crew responded with their most complete game of the season in a 2-0 victory.
“It was the third game in seven days, and we played the best soccer,” Warzycha said.
It has been almost restful in the Crew camp in the aftermath of that win, because they did not have to play a midweek game for the first time in three weeks.
“We can get our legs back under us,” forward Jason Garey said.
That seemingly gives the Crew the edge when Houston visits Crew Stadium on Saturday for the Dynamo's third match since Sunday and fourth game in 10 days. The Dynamo have played two SuperLiga matches at home since Sunday — a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA and Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Puebla.
“You can’t really predict what will happen,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes when you play every three days you get into a rhythm. It happened for us. Look at the New York game.”
While nobody knows how the Dynamo will feel after their strenuous schedule, it’s a sure bet the Crew know what kind of game to expect.
“They are physically good,” Warzycha said of Houston. “They have a lot of players 6-foot, 6-foot-1, and they like to go on the ground. They like the challenges. They go after 50-50s like there’s no tomorrow, and they are very organized.
“They won’t let you play,” he added. “They won’t let you get into a rhythm. Sometimes they foul. They know how to do that because they have very good players and are coached by a good coach.”
Houston was able to neutralize the Crew in the last meeting by slowing them down through the midfield and not fouling in spots close to goal where Guillermo Barros Schelotto can be lethal on set pieces.
“They do their fouling out near midfield,” Garey said. “They don’t really allow you to get close to the box. It’s a smart thing for them to do, but we’re real dangerous on free kicks around the box. We need to do a better job of getting loose from those markers and make a few better runs, so maybe they have to chase us down and foul us close to the box. We have to get closer to the 18. We have to take it to them a little more.”
Warzycha could use Jed Zayner or center midfielder Adam Moffat for Hejduk, with defender Danny O’Rourke moving into Carroll’s spot and Eddie Gaven sliding from the right wing into the middle. Emmanuel Ekpo might get the start at Gaven’s position.
No matter who starts, Warzycha has one objective:
“We have to play like we played against New York," Warzycha said. "If you look at Houston’s games, it’s not like they’re losing 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0. They don’t give up too many goals. They have a good goalie. They have good people behind the ball. It’s going to be very difficult to play them.”