Guillermo Barros Schelotto earned Player of the Week honors with a penalty-kick goal and two assists. All eyes will be on him this Thursday when he takes on Marcelo Gallardo and D.C. United in the first MLS matchup of these Argentine veterans, former stars for Boca Juniors and River Plate, respectively.
Seldom in their 13 years of existence have these MLS teams borne many similarities, either in style or results, yet Crew head coach Sigi Schmid has adopted a somewhat D.C. persona to his offensive approach: with Schelotto as the focal point, he wants Alejandro Moreno, Robbie Rogers, Eddie Gaven, Nicolas Hernandez and whoever else joins the attack to interchange and figure out ways to carve open the opposing defense while covering vital areas in the attacking third.
"We let our guys roam about a little bit," says Schmid of a philosophy of letting his attackers work within a rough framework but rely on their instincts as well. It's not unlike how D.C. had played the last few seasons with Jaime Moreno, Luciano Emilio, Fred and Christian Gomez, who is now with Colorado. Having added Gallardo and Franco Niell, United hopes it can be even more dangerous and just as unpredictable. But somebody has to run the show.
"We let Guillermo dictate and so sometimes he's in the middle and Niko's on the flanks," says Schmid. "Sometimes Guillermo's on the flank and Niko's in the middle and Rogers was on one. As long as one of those three covers those three spaces, I'm okay with it. It's good to have those kind of choices and it's good to have that competition."
So far, Hernandez has lost the competition for playing time, with just 28 minutes of action in the Crew's first three games. The Crew have scored six goals: Schelotto, Moreno, Rogers and Gaven have combined for five goals and four assists. Also in the mix is Brazilian Guilherme So, who has yet to play in a league match.
In the season opener against Toronto, after Adam Moffat drilled home a long-range shot in the first half, Columbus sealed a 2-0 win when Gaven collected a ball in midfield and played a pass that fell perfectly for Moreno to finish off. In the Meadowlands, the Crew surrendered two quick goals and labored futilely to break through a massed Red Bull defense, yet still it cranked out 20 shots even though Schelotto came off at halftime.
Restored to the orchestrator role against Chivas USA, the former Boca legend set up Moreno for a go-ahead goal on a counter stemming from a Brian Carroll midfield tackle. Moreno played the ball to Schelotto, who held the ball to draw out keeper Brad Guzan and returned the pass for Moreno to shoot low into the net.
Schelotto reprised the sequence on the third Crew goal, this time setting up Rogers after he'd sprinted to keep the ball in play. Moreno played it to Schelotto, and Rogers beat the offside trap and slid a shot between Guzan and the near post.
With Schelotto working both sides as well as the middle, Schmid stresses effective use of the flanks as essential. Rogers and Gaven are nominally the flank players; Moreno can run the channels as well as receive passes with his back to goal, and like many modern creators, Schelotto prefers to start plays from wide positions, whether he serves from those spots or decides to come inside.
"We want to get a lot of attacking play out of our flank players so I think we're pretty flexible there," says Schmid. "Sometimes it looks like a 4-4-2, sometimes it looks like a 4-3-3, and sometimes it looks like a 4-2-3-1. It depends a little bit on the opposition and who's in form on a given day.
"We want to see Robbie higher more often this year, perhaps playing in conjunction with Moreno at times." Last year, Rogers scored three goals in 10 games after leaving Dutch club Heerenveen. He netted the third and fourth goals against Chivas USA.
Schmid wants consistency from all of his attackers to avoid the problems of last season, when Schelotto, through listlessness or zealous opposing pressure in midfield, didn't bring his best effort.
"It's great fun when he's up for the game, and he knows that," said Moreno after a Guzan error gave Columbus the winning goal on a Rogers shot in the 82nd minute. "We depend a lot on what he does and when's [he's] going from the get-go, it makes things a lot easier for all of us because he can find the passes that not many people in this league can find."