The Columbus Crew are not in a good place. They are losers of two in a row and have not won in seven games. They have one win in the last 16 matches. All bad numbers.
The team has scored 21 goals and conceded 25 in 19 games this season. Not anything to write home about.
With all of that said, the hate being thrown at the team has gone too far.
This team started out better than any in the Crew's history, which likely raised the expectations to a place they shouldn't have been. Last year, they finished 12-17-5 with only 21 more points than the 2014 version already. They were eight points from making the playoffs.
Anthony Precourt made his first big move as owner by going with new blood at head coach, hiring Gregg Berhalter to take over and bring in an entirely new staff. The team had to be retooled to establish an identity it hadn't had since the championship season of 2008.
Berhalter wanted to play a possession-based game that is entertaining and seen around the world. He wanted his outside backs to be a part of the attack, while his wingers help keep the ball and allow the backs to overlap. He focused on the strengths of certain players - Will Trapp and Federico Higuain specifically - while allowing others to depart. Changing to this unique style takes time.
"We're not saying we need to win the championship, that's not what we're saying," Berhalter said after Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
"We expect a certain level of performance and that's what we're looking at. When you have that level of performance, you get a result... We're disappointed."
Berhalter called the Kansas City game a "learning experience," which could be used to describe the entire season. Although the team is more than halfway through the year, they are still learning and developing the way the coaches want them to play. Berhalter has preached movement and at times that hasn't been there or it hasn't been done correctly.
"Frustrated, very disappointed," midfielder Ethan Finlay said on Wednesday. "But I think we have faith. We believe in Gregg. We believe in this system and we believe in each other. Those are things that will take us a long way in the end and there are still a lot of games."
The players have expressed their belief in the system week in and week out despite the results. This team wants to play good, attractive soccer and Berhalter is working with them to do so.
After the opening three wins, opponents began to figure out Columbus' early play. Toronto FC came to Columbus Crew Stadium and scored an early goal that allowed them to "park the bus" and counter. It worked and teams realized this was a good way to lineup against the Crew.
Instead of panicking, Berhalter stayed the course. He worked with his players on how to attack a team with 11 men behind the ball, admitting multiple times that it's not easy. The easy way isn't always the right way and Berhalter is doing what he believes is right in the long term.
The long term may be the key that those clamoring for Berhalter's head after just over half a season are missing. This is step one in a multiple step process. Berhalter has a four year contract with three years guaranteed and is Precourt's hire. He has the freedom to take time to build the team.
Those that follow Major League Soccer love to talk about the play of Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and the Seattle Sounders, all teams that look to do something similar to the Black and Gold. Those teams didn't start playing that way over night and their success has taken time. The Sounders began play in 2009 with Sigi Schmid and despite their vast resources, are yet to reach and the MLS Cup Final or fire their coach.
In one offseason, Berhalter added Steve Clark, Michael Parkhurst, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Waylon Francis, Hector Jimenez and Daniel Paladini.
Clark has quietly developed into one of the best shot-stoppers in the league. Parkhurst was a member of the 30-man U.S. roster before the World Cup and has been a consistent performer. Gonzalez and Francis were both part of a historic Costa Rican team in the World Cup. Jimenez has emerged as a very solid winger after finally getting consistent playing time before his knee injury. Paladini has been limited to due injury.
With a possible attacking signing on the horizon, this team certainly has some pieces in place to build into something special. Then there is next offseason, where Berhalter and his staff will again be on the transfer market looking to improve. He will get to work with his players once more in preseason, where they can continue to improve.
This team didn't come into the year with a championship-or-bust mentality; the playoffs were considered a stretch by many. Yet the team sits three points out of the playoffs with 15 games to play and this season is already a failure?
Whether anyone will admit it or not, this is a rebuilding year for a team that wants to not only win, but play the beautiful game. Be patient with this team; it is not the hopelessly inept product of the last few seasons. There have been bright spots clouded by months of no wins.
Just give it time because that's what it takes to build.