San Jose missed a big opportunity to move up in the playoff race on Wednesday against the struggling Chicago Fire, and are now faced with the difficult challenge of bouncing back against the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew have actually been struggling in their last three games on the MLS schedule, including blowout losses to Seattle and Los Angeles. It's possible the Crew are suffering from fixture congestion with the team still alive in the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champion's League. While San Jose had to travel to Toronto, back to San Jose, and on to Ohio in a week, Columbus had it worse, playing a game in Guatemala on Wednesday.
With just five games remaining the Quakes need 10 points to assure a playoff spot. While a draw would be an adequate result on the road against a fellow playoff caliber squad, a win would wash away the bad feeling from Chicago's 3-0 drubbing. The main improvement San Jose needs to make from Wednesday's loss is in the finishing department. The Quakes outshot the fire 16-10 and put 6 shots on target but none found the back of the net.
Columbus is led by Argentinian forward and former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The 37 year old veteran paces the team in both goals and assists and his involvement is crucial for the Crew's attack. Frankie Hejduk is the other most recognizable member of the Crew. Look for him to move forward into attack from his defensive left back position. Andy Iro makes up one half of the central defense pairing, but Chad Marshall may miss the game with neck spasms.
For San Jose it will be interesting to see if Frank Yallop makes any changes in the lineup after sending out the same eleven two games in a row. Considering that it would be their third game in 8 days and that the lineup was only marginally effective and faded badly in the second half against Chicago one would expect a few changes. My guess is that Joey Gjertsen, Bobby Burling, Brad Ring and perhaps even Eduardo may get a chance to start.