The world of sports is a results based business. Through the first two months of the season, the Columbus Crew were getting results. Despite not playing the most attractive soccer, the Crew found themselves with a record of 3-2-3 and 12 points. General Manager Mark McCullers' prediction that this team would make the playoffs was starting to look like it could come to fruition.
Since the beginning of May though, things have not gone as well for the Black and Gold. They started off the month with two straight home losses, first to the New York Red Bulls, then to the Colorado Rapids. They responded with a win in Toronto on May 18, but have not won again since.
There was a stretch of three games without a loss - four including the 2-1 Open Cup win over the Dayton Dutch Lions - but that came crashing down with the 3-0 loss to the Union in Philadelphia.
Throughout this stretch of six games, where the team has gone 1-3-2 and collect just five points, Columbus has dropped five points back of the last playoff spot. It is still early in the season, but points lost at this stage can come back to haunt a team come October.
The Crew have had to deal with a flurry of injuries over this period, losing Eddie Gaven and now Glauber for the season to a torn ACL and others, including Chad Marshall, Josh Williams, Danny O'Rourke, and Dominic Oduro, have missed games do to ailments.
The real issue has been that Columbus could have easily improved on their record and continued their decent start to the season.
In the Red Bull game, the Crew more than doubled New York in shot attempts and were awarded a penalty kick in the second half, yet still found a way to lose 1-0 on a late goal. The Rapid game was similar, as Columbus allowed Colorado to score on their first two attempts and outshot them 22-4, yet lost again.
The two ties, against New York and the Houston Dynamo could have both been big wins for the Crew. Columbus had the lead on the road in stoppage time, but against conceded a late goal and gave away three points in New York. In the Dynamo game, the Black and Gold again controlled the game but were unable to produce more than a penalty kick goal and had to settle for a draw.
The faithful that fills Columbus Crew Stadium have seen their team win just once in person this season. In MLS, teams that hope to make the playoffs must at least get wins at home and then compliment them with points on the road. The Crew have been getting points on the road on a fairly regular clip, but have not found the victories in their friendly confines.
An inability to finish chances, defensive lapses, central midfield woes, and injuries aren't even the most frustrating parts of Columbus' poor stretch.
During this run the Crew have played five Eastern Conference opponents, but have only managed five points from those games. If the team had only drawn at home against the Red Bulls and held on in stoppage time to win in New York, thus taking four points from a conference opponent, they would sit tied with the Red Bulls on 21 points for the final playoff spot.
The four teams above Columbus in the standings are within five points, yet having played two of them in the last two games, the Crew could have closed that gap or past both the Dynamo or the Union.
Over this stretch, Kansas City and Philadelphia each took home 11 points, while the New England Revolution and Houston each managed eight. While this is respectable, these teams left the door open for Columbus to make up ground and put themselves in good position heading into the summer.
The missed opportunities in the last six games have set the Crew behind the eight ball. While they are still only nine points out of the top spot in the East, the schedule does not get easier for the Black and Gold as they move forward.
With the summer comes a more intense schedule, with games being played closer together. This will not help the injury situation, but the Crew will want to get as close to full strength as possible in order to begin their climb back up the East.
The collar is beginning to get hot for head coach Robert Warzycha, as the results continue to disappoint. There is obvious talent on this team, yet for some reason it is not resulting in wins. The very disheartening 3-0 loss - where the Crew allowed all three goals in a span of six minutes, outshot their opponent, and had more possession - has everyone involved in the organization frustrated.
If things are going to turn around for the Crew, it needs to happen quickly. Not only because Warzycha could be out if they don't, but also because this team is all too familiar with trying to catch up with the playoffs late. Last year Columbus missed out on the post season by one point after making a late surge.
The Crew will hope that this substandard recent form will not cost them at the end of the season.