Because the margin for error for the offensively challenged Columbus Crew is paper thin, every set piece – whether taken or defended – becomes exponentially greater.
“These are plays that change a game,” midfielder Milovan Mirosevic emphasized.
In the past two matches, the Crew (2-4-1) have discovered how crucial restarts are.
Last week, Young-Pyo Lee netted the only goal of the match via a free kick in Vancouver’s victory. The week before, they allowed Houston’s Will Bruin to score off a corner kick cross in a 2-2 draw April 21.
“That’s part of the game,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said. “You have to mark in the box and you have to get on the guy. We can practice as much as we want but obviously, we are going to face somebody different in the game.”
Meanwhile, Columbus’ only dead-ball goal was a header by Chad Marshall from a corner kick during a 4-1 loss to New York on April 7. They had another called back against Vancouver when Marshall was called for a foul as Josh Williams deposited a Mirosevic restart into the net.
“There’s a lot of pushing and grabbing on every play,” midfielder Tony Tchani said. “I don’t know how that can be called against us, but we have to forget about it and do better next time.”
"Next time" is Saturday at Portland (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online). The Crew have scored just six times (an average 0.86 goals per game) and the Timbers nine (1.13), so it’s not unreasonable to think a set piece will be the deciding factor. Portland have scored two free-kick goals and allowed one.
“They are very a good team that capitalized on set pieces last year,” Warzycha said. “They have some big guys who can cause some damage.”
As do the Crew, who have more options offensively than in recent years. Kirk Urso is still ninth in MLS with 19 corners taken despite not starting the past two games. Mirosevic and Nemanja Vukovic have taken over the duties and are primarily targeting Williams, Tchani and Marshall.
“It’s all in the service,” Tchani said. “If we get a perfect ball, we can finish it off, I’m sure. We have been very close at times as you saw Saturday.”
Starting forwards Olman Vargas and Aaron Schoenfeld would also be in the mix but each was injured Saturday and will not play. Their replacement choices include Emilio Rentería and second-year players Bernardo Añor and Justin Meram. The latter two spent time training with the first team on Thursday.
Rentería, meanwhile, has not scored after poaching eight goals in 18 games last season.
“He’s working hard,” Warzycha said. “Maybe the beginning of the season the ball didn’t bounce the right way and we didn’t find him in the right areas.”