First place not good enough for hungry Crew

Success breeds tough expections for proven Columbus side

OBETZ, Ohio – There were times since midfielder Duncan Oughton joined the Crew in 2001 that a .500 record over a 12-game stretch would be considered an accomplishment.

From 2003 through 2007 the team missed the playoffs four times and finished with a winning mark only once, when they won the Supporters’ Shield in 2004.

But the club’s recent success - highlighted with a 2008 MLS Cup - brings higher expectations. And that’s why not all is as well as it seems in Columbus, where the Crew have won just five of their last 12 matches after winning six of their first eight.

“Our standards are pretty high,” Oughton said. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, we had a good win but we could have played a lot better.’ That’s a good thing. Even when we’re winning we’re not settling for some of the average play we’ve had.”

The Crew (11-5-4) lead the Eastern Conference by six points over New York heading into Saturday’s home tilt against Colorado. But there have been few matches lately when the team came away completely satisfied, aside from home wins over New York and Houston in July.

And there have been major disappointments, including a 1-0 defeat at Colorado on June 5 and recent road losses to Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA.

“We’ve had injuries. That’s part of it,” midfielder Adam Moffat said. “Points-wise we’re still a little bit ahead of where we were the last two years. That’s the way we’ve got to look at it.”

In 2008, when the Crew claimed the first of two straight Supporters Shields, they had 34 points (10-6-4) after 20 games and finished strong with 57. Last year they were at 33 (8-3-9) and ended at 49.

In each of those seasons the Crew went on a tear at some point. A year ago it was 10-1-7 from April 11 to Aug. 15 before they struggled when the CONCACAF Champions League began,

Without the burden of six additional Champions League games in 2008, the Crew went 11-1-3 in the final 14 games all the way through a victory over New York in the MLS Cup.

“One game a week [in 2008] and we were lucky we had no injuries. We had the same team all the time,” Warzycha said. “You have to be fortunate. At the end of last year, we kept the pace and won the Supporters’ Shield.”

Injuries have contributed to the inconsistent play. Eddie Gaven returned from a concussion to play 90 minutes Wednesday in a Champions League match but midfielder Brian Carroll (stomach virus) is not expected to start for a third straight match but will be on the bench.

Midfielder Robbie Rogers (knee surgery) and Gino Padula (knee) are out.