COLUMBUS – Saturday’s 2011 home opener was a match the Columbus Crew feel they should have won.
Against a depleted Red Bulls squad missing seven regular players due to injuries or national team duty, the home team created several opportunities but the 0-0 tie has left the Crew searching for answers and goals.
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“Offensively we have to be sharper in front of the goal,” manager Robert Warzycha said. “If we shot earlier a couple of times maybe we would have scored. Playing against a team like that we should have taken three points.
“If you don’t shoot, you don’t score,” he added. “It’s as simple as that. We had opportunities in the second half, probably two or three times where somebody could have pulled the trigger.”
Warzycha opted for a new look in attack after the 3-1 loss at D.C. United last weekend. With Emilio Renteria still nursing a hamstring injury, Warzycha opted for a new forward partner for designated player Andres Mendoza. He gave the nod to Emmanuel Ekpo in place of Jeff Cunningham, the second all-time leading scorer in MLS history.
The Nigerian Ekpo, who did not look comfortable as the playmaking center midfield last weekend, moved into the withdrawn forward spot underneath Mendoza. It was similar to the formation successfully employed with Guillermo Barros Schelotto over the last three seasons.
Ekpo had his moments but was denied by a fingertip save from Red Bulls’ third-string goalkeeper Alex Horwath in the 39th minute.
“I had some chances but unfortunately I didn’t use them very well but I feel comfortable over there,” Ekpo said of his new spot.
Mendoza felt Ekpo and others needed to be more active in the box to support him.
“I was going to the near post every time but there wasn’t anybody coming behind me going to the far post to be an assistant,” he said through a translator. “We had half chances. They didn’t come to fruition for one reason or another.
“I enjoyed playing with [Ekpo], especially in the first half when he was a little bit closer. In the second half the coach put him a little further back. The important thing is to play close to me, a little bit faster.”
Warzycha hinted he might use the pair again.
“We got more from him [Ekpo] being a little but higher than in the midfield,” he said.
The Crew’s new look on Saturday included Robbie Rogers regaining his starting spot at left midfield after being benched at D.C. in favor of Dilly Duka.
Rogers, who was the subject of trade rumors during the week, did his usual running down the flank but was not sharp in finding players in the box. He was spelled by rookie Bernardo Anor, who made his debut in the 66th minute.
“[Rogers] was active in the beginning and also in the second half but we wanted to change the game with fresh legs and going after defenders,” Warzycha said.
The Crew is winless after two matches to start 2011 and the players are not ready to hit the panic button even though their last winless streak to start a season in 2009 stretched to seven matches. Columbus is at home again next Friday on national television against FC Dallas (7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer).
“It’s a new team,” captain Chad Marshall said. “It’s going to take some time to figure out who we are. It’s not the end of the world.”