Football, meet futbol

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Browns suck. The Bengals blow. The Buckeyes are an embarrassment.

This fall isn't looking promising for Ohio football fans. But sports devotees seeking the thrill of victory this season shouldn't despair. They should try soccer.

The Columbus Crew is good again. In fact, they're better than ever - atop Major League Soccer and playing the most attractive soccer in the league. If there ever was a Crew squad that could convince the haters soccer isn't boring, this is it.

Columbus has three home games left: this evening's buck-a-brat night encounter with the New York Red Bulls, an Oct. 4 visit from David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy and a season-ending showdown with the hated D.C. United on Oct. 26. Soccer newbies would do well to show up for one of these, if only as an antidote to all that gridiron gloom.

To facilitate the transition, allow me to put the Crew and their sport in context.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto: Think of him as the quarterback (or, if basketball's your game, the point guard). Schelotto runs the Crew offense and leads MLS with a Crew-record 18 assists. In the event of a Schelotto injury, Pat Noonan or Emmanuel Ekpo may slide into this role.

Nordecke: This rowdy fan section in Crew Stadium's northeast corner is comparable to Cleveland's Dawg Pound, only with organized chants and Latin rhythm.

Alejandro Moreno: Like a bruising running back, Moreno does the offensive dirty work and is a reliable but rarely flashy scorer. Or to keep the basketball analogy going, Moreno does what a center does, receiving passes with his back to goal and either kicking them out to his teammates or turning to shoot.

Robbie Rogers & Eddie Gaven: This young duo mans the flanks, operating like wideouts on offense and outside linebackers on defense.

Yellow card: It's a more severe form of discipline, sort of like a personal foul. Get two of these and you're tossed, plus your team has to play a man down, like the power play. Particularly egregious misbehavior is greeted with a red card, which results in immediate ejection.

Chad Marshall: The rock of the Crew's center defense is like a brilliant cover corner with the size of a middle linebacker. And when he gets involved on offense, his aerial connections with Schelotto may remind you of an NBA player finishing an alley-oop.

What's next for the Crew?

A win tonight against the New York Red Bulls will all but lock up the Crew's first playoff berth since 2004. Skeptics can watch on ESPN2 or succumb to the allure of Buck-a-Brat Night at Crew Stadium.