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Report: Crew owner Precourt in talks with local investors

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It’s small, but there is a new sign that the #SaveTheCrew movement is working.

According to a report out of the Columbus Business First, Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has held “preliminary” conversations with local potential investors in recent days.  This is a big step because after a contentious meeting in New York between the Columbus Partnership and both Precourt and MLS, it appeared Precourt was prepared to move the team to Austin, no matter the response from Columbus.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Now, there’s a chance, even if it’s slight, that the team could change hands and remain in Columbus, where it’s been since Lamar Hunt owned the team and it was the first club formed into the then-brand new MLS.

“The whole country is impressed with #SaveTheCrew,” Alex Fischer, CEO of Columbus Partnership told Columbus Business First. “It shows the passion of the fan base … the enthusiasm is infectious. Clearly things aren’t going well in Austin,” Fischer said. “I’ve tried to keep the emotion out of it … but we care about this team. We are constantly looking for any opportunity we’ve got to try to create the best possible situation” for the team.

MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke on the record earlier this week with Sports Illustrated, outlining how Austin came into the contract Precourt signed when he bought the Crew, and how much has changed in the years since.

Precourt announced last October, on the eve of the Crew’s playoff run, that he would look to move the club to Austin in 2019 if a new stadium wasn’t built for him – or a stadium site found for him – closer to the heart of downtown in Columbus. MAPFRE Stadium is located about five miles north of downtown Columbus.

Playoff push: Columbus puts four up on Dallas, takes win out of Frisco (Video)

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If you can deal with speed, you’re going to have a lot of success defending Columbus’s Dominic Oduro. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Crew attacker burned them badly on two Sunday goals, the result seeing FCD’s playoff hopes a debilitating blow.

Columbus, on the other hand, are the hottest team in the East. Winners of four of their last five, the Crew find themselves one point out of a playoff spot after Sunday’s 4-2 win in Frisco, one which saw goals from Federico Higuaín, Jairo Arrieta, Oduro and Bernardo Anor push them into a tie for sixth in their conference.

But although the goals were spread out, it was Oduro, in combination with poor defending by Dallas, that decided this one. On the second goal, the Crew’s leading scorer pulled away from Dallas midfielder Erick before setting up Arrieta. And on Columbus’s third goal, after Dallas had closed to within one, Oduro beats Matt Hedges to a bouncing ball in midfield, eventually putting himself in alone on Raul Fernandez.

Columbus wasn’t immune to their own terrible defending, as Dallas’s second goal shows, but once Anor’s insurance tally went in, Brian Bliss had yet another win, one that pushes his team to 41 points on the year. Though they’ve played one more game than their Eastern Conference competition, the Crew sit one point back of fifth place Philadelphia (and even with sixth place New England).

Dallas, on the other hand, are left five points back of idle Colorado with four games left. Arguably more important: They’ll have to beat out three teams to claim that final postseason spot.

Given the performance we saw tonight, that’s unlikely to happen. If one of these teams is going to be playing soccer in November, it’s going to be Columbus.

Looking at United States national team history in Columbus

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The reasonable among us understand no there are no falling skies today for U.S. Soccer. Yes, the United States had a stinker last night down in San Jose – but this is now literally and figuratively behind them.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team vacated the Costa Rican premises first thing this morning, chartering into Ohio, where they will relax the rest of the day and then train on Sunday, two days before Tuesday’s next shot at regional rival Mexico. (By the way, whatever you think of the United States current worry points, Michael Bradley’s bum ankle, the intensifying crisis at outside back, etc., ask yourself this: would you trade the current U.S. problems for Mexico’s problems? I thought not.)

Still, even those who understand that U.S. qualification for a seventh consecutive World Cup is all but mathematically in the bag, Friday’s loss is just a big ol’ bummer. So perhaps all the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer supporters could use a little pick-me-up, this evening, a little ice cream cone on a rainy day, so to speak.

Here ‘tis …

Just examine the U.S. history in Columbus, where the national team is undefeated inside Lamar Hunt’s leap of faith facility, the first major stadium constructed solely for soccer in the United States. (Good karma, eh?) The Americans are 6-0-3 there.

Heck, they’ve only conceded one goal in the place all-time. Here is the rundown:

  • Oct. 11, 2000: 0-0 tie vs. Costa Rica
  • Feb. 28, 2001: 2-0 win over Mexico
  • June 7, 2001: 0-0 tie vs. Ecuador
  • July 6, 2003: 2-0 win over Paraguay
  • June 13, 2004: 3-0 win over Grenada
  • Nov. 17, 2004: 1-1 tie vs. Jamaica
  • Sept. 3, 2005: 2-0 win over Mexico
  • Feb. 11, 2009: 2-0 win over Mexico
  • Sept. 11, 2012: 1-0 win over Jamaica

Take special notice of that 2005 match. Bruce Arena’s team booked official qualification that sunny, late-summer day in Ohio for the 2006 World Cup. Surely you remember the famous Oguchi Onyewu stare down of Jared Borgetti?

Sound familiar? September match against Mexico at Crew Stadium with a chance to stake official passage to a World Cup?  Sounds a lot like Tuesday, eh?

Early red card helps Columbus hand Portland first loss since March

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The lost potential for 19-in-a-row should make Portland appreciate what it took for 2010’s FC Dallas to get to that mark. After an early goal from a corner kick and a Pa-Modou Kah red card, Columbus was up a goal and a man after 11 minutes, advantages that persisted as full-time blew on the Crew’s 1-0, streak-ending win.

For much of the match, despite Columbus’s man advantage, Portland looked like their typical selves, their ball-hogging ways allowing them to keep 55.8% percent of possession. But as is often the case with Caleb Porter’s Timbers, that advantage didn’t necessarily translate into shots on goal, with Columbus putting four on Donovan Ricketts to Portland’s one test of Matt Lampson.

By match’s end, after Porter went to three at the back, Columbus looked likely to counter attack their way to a second goal, with the final whistle calling time on a game the Crew were going to decide one way or another. The longer the match went, the more fatigued Portland’s out-manned team looked, the more space Federico Higuaín had to play balls through Portland’s stretched defense.

Ultimately, it was a game that was never going to go Portland’s way. On another day, they may have been able to find an equalizer to Bernardo Anor’s opener, or Higuaín’s missed penalty after Kah’s red card may have given them a second life. But between the opening goal, the lost man, and the absences of Will Johnson and Frédéric Piquionne, the deck as stacked against the Timbers in this one.

Porter’s second loss as a professional coach ends Portland’s unbeaten run at 15, reminding us how difficult it must have been to go unbeaten since early March, let alone potentially stretch that streak to 19. Not only do you have to be very good and incredibly consistent, but because of the thin margin of error in professional soccer, sometimes you have to be mistake free. One mis-step from a defender – an errant boot trying to make up for getting beat on a misread bounce – and your streak is toast.

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MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at Montréal Impact

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  • Houston winless since May 8
  • Dynamo without Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia
  • Montréal claiming league best points, goals per match

On May 8, Houston went to RFK Stadium and blitzed D.C. United, a result that not only reaffirmed our doubts about Ben Olsen’s squad but helped confirm preseason suspicions about the Dynamo. Having solidified in the offseason, Houston convinced most pundits that they’d avoid the fifth place finish that complicated last year’s route to a second-straight MLS Cup final. Since, however, Dominic Kinnear’s team is winless in a four-match span that’s seen the team handed their first losses at BBVA Compass Stadium. They’ve also managed only one of a possible six points from New England and Columbus.

Houston also played Sporting Kansas City twice in that span, so it’s not like the Dynamo had the easiest of months, but the struggles still bring preseason expectations into perspective. At MLS Cup last year, when I asked Kinnear about his team’s fifth place finish, he expressed some mild disappointment with his team’s placing. “We certainly didn’t try to finish fifth,” he said, a response which, months later, provided a hint as to how a bulked up Dynamo team would tackle the 2013 season.

With the second-highest point rate in the East, Houston appear to have improved on last year’s mid-table performance, yet given their last months’ slide, it’s worth considering where things may be going wrong. With only two goals in their last four games, the answer seems clear, but with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia just returning from national team duty, things may not get better tonight in Montréal (8:00 p.m. EDT kickoff at Stade Saputo). Will Bruin, Andrew Driver – somebody needs to find a way to create chances in the absence of the team’s two best players.

The Impact are coming off their own disappointment, having lost this weekend in Columbus. Though Montréal remain the only MLS team claiming at least two points per game, the Crew provided a reminder of the Impact’s unique quality.  Given their talents and how Marco Schällibaum’s setting his team up, Montréal is the team you’d least want to grant the opening goal. Not coincidentally, despite the league’s best goal rate, they’re also a team disproportionately hurt by giving up the first goal.  Even a team like Columbus, a decent but far from elite side, can take down the Impact if they score early and force them to play so different from their base approach.

But when we’re talking about a team that’s sitting atop the Eastern Conference, these are trifling concerns. All successful teams have styles they prefer. Montréal’s is a patient, conservative approach that becomes opportunistic, aggressive when Patrice Bernier finds Marco Di Vaio in transition. Of course, they’re not unbeatable, but a short-handed Houston making the long, mid-week trip to Quebec, we’re likely to see why Montréal, in only their second season, are a viable Supporters’ Shield contender.

If they win, Montréal will open up a four-point lead on second place New York, a huge gap considering the Impacts’ two matches in hand. If Houston wins, they’ll leap into a tie with Red Bull for second place, one point behind the conference leaders.

Other notes: Aside from Davis and Garcia’s absences, both teams will be at full strength … Referee Chris Penso has issued eight red cards and given 13 penalties in his 38 MLS games … Teams are 1-1-1 all-time against each other … Montréal has recently flirted with a 4-4-2 formation, trying to get Andrew Wenger more time. For former No. 1 overall pick was ineffective in Columbus, subbed off early in the second half … With captain Davy Arnaud available, Montréal could return to the 4-5-1 … Houston get Bobby Boswell (suspension) and Jermaine Taylor (international duty) back in central defense, allowing Ricardo Clark to return to midfield … When that defense lost Eric Brunner early in Columbus, Anthony Arena made his full debut; Rookie Jason Johnson got his first start of the season in Columbus.