Preview: Crew looks to bounce back against defending champs

Black & Gold kick-off second half of season with 4th of July clash in LA

Danny O'Rourke

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Though the Crew may not have had the first half of 2013 it had hoped for, the Black & Gold find themselves just three points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Kicking off the second half of the season against the two-time defending MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy on Thursday night (10:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio), the Crew is not looking at the table as it progresses through the rest of 2013.

"I never look at playoff spots, halfway points or any of that stuff," veteran midfielder Danny O'Rourke said Tuesday. "It's all about whoever we play next, that way you don't get ahead of yourself and fret upon what's happened. Especially in this League, every game counts and you have to take it as such."

"There's a lot of season left, a lot of time to do something," defender Chad Marshall echoed. "It's going to be tough, especially being away against the defending MLS Cup Champions, but we've got to start putting it together.

"We realize that there's a lot of season left. We've got to get back to doing what we do well: play within ourselves, work hard and work hard for the guy next to you and I think the results will come."

After back-to-back losses to confrence rivals Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City, the Crew will look to end its recent woes at the StubHub Center on Thursday before hosting the unbeaten-in-15-matches Portland Timbers on Sunday -- it's third match in eight days.

"LA is a really good team, they're defending champs," O'Rourke said. "It's always difficult to have short weeks and play these teams, but that's the game of soccer right there. It's our job to adapt, especially when we're in an adverse situation with the two losses.

"We need to challenge ourselves not only as soccer players, but as men, to get results."

EXPECT CHANGES

Following flights from Kansas City to Los Angeles and back to Columbus, the Black & Gold will have traveled almost 4,000 miles in less than a week come Sunday. With such a hectic schedule of matches and cross-country travel, Head Coach Robert Warzycha could make a few changes to keep legs fresh during the final two games of the three-match stretch.

"I don't think we plan to rotate a lot of guys, but there will be some changes," Warzycha said. "These are professional players, they know how to use this time to rest. They know that games are sometimes every few days, so I don't think there will be any issues."

One change will be for certain as Jairo Arrieta has been called to represent Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Ben Speas, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay are the likely candidates to replace Arrieta on the left wing where he's started the past two matches.

Central midfielder Matías Sánchez is also likely to return to the Crew lineup after serving his one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

STOPPING KEANE

Just as it did when the Galaxy met the Crew in Columbus last season, LA will be without prolific forward Landon Donovan on Thursday due to international duty. The Galaxy will, however, still have the services of its other Designated Player: the always dangerous Robbie Keane. The 32-year-old Ireland International has registered five goals and six assists in nine matches this season.

"I think [Keane] is a top striker in the League, the best striker in the League I would say," Warzycha praised the former Tottenham Hotspur star. "We have to make sure we know where he is at all times."

Added Marshall: "[Keane] has been in really good form this year for them, he's scoring a lot of goals. He makes good runs. You've always got to know where he's at on the field. He's very good at the last second, getting in behind you or creating the space and checking into it. We've always got to know where he's at."

Eliminating costly turnovers, therefore removing a prime component of LA's attack, will be a priority for the Crew on Thursday.

"They have a good collection of players and good individual players. I think what makes them so good is that they defend as an entire unit. It's not just the back four, they defend all over the field and create turnovers. Obviously, then they get it to the guys who are very creative attacking-wise.

"We're going to have to be good with the ball, not lose it in bad situations and bad spots that they can capitalize on. We have to be sharp, realize what they do well and limit their opportunities in those situations."