While Columbus Crew SC are almost assuredly in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Black & Gold have some work to do. The last two games, one at home and one away, have not gone the team's way, keeping them from qualifying and killing their chances at the top of the Eastern Conference and the top of the league.
With the team off last weekend, head coach Gregg Berhalter, his staff, and the players had a chance to refocus and work on some of the issues that were ailing them.
"For us now, it's identifying shortcoming of our game on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, and continuing to address them," Berhalter said last Tuesday. "I mean, we address them every week in training, but now you have five extra days to work. We'll train Monday through Friday so you have a good block of time to really start attacking some of these issues."
During a typical game week, the Black & Gold take Wednesday off, but last week the coaches decided it would be better served to go five days straight.
"It's full [week], but it's an under load," the head coach explained. "So it's not going to be physically intense; it might be mentally challenging in terms of some of the ideas and concepts that we're working on and some of the tactical stuff, but physically it's not going to be heavy."
By Wednesday, Berhalter had a good feel for the how the week was going.
"I think it's been a good week of training," he said. "So far, we're not done with it obviously, but the focus has been there, a lot of tactical elements, and overall I think it's been good."
Only seeing little bits of the end of training each day, I was curious what type of things the club focused on during the off week.
"We're talking about moving and shifting and pressuring and the shape of the team," Berhalter explained to me. "It's a lot of things where the guys constantly have to adjust their position to react to where the ball is and that's something that we don't always do. We've been sloppy a little bit and it's just getting back to that.
"It's more of introducing some topics that we feel we can improve on. The basics are there. We're talking about more advanced things."
Crew SC had Saturday and Sunday off to regroup so Friday was the final day of training. Did Berhalter and his coaching staff get what they wanted out of the week?
"Absolutely," he replied after practice on Friday. "I think the week was a very good week of training. We worked a lot tactically and today was a little bit more relaxed. We did set pieces today and overall it was a really good week.
"This week, as the week went on, Monday Tuesday, guys were still thinking about the game. By Wednesday, we were fully into the session, full intensity, Thursday was the best session of the week, and then today had some good intensity as well."
As the players and coaches returned from the off weekend, the focus shifts. A trip to Toronto FC looms on Saturday in a big match in the East. Berhalter knows his team has to be ready to go as they look to clinch a playoff spot and improve their position in the standings.
"We've transitioned into a normal week and we'll have a normal week rhythm," Berhalter said on Tuesday. "Thursday we'll be focused on Toronto. I think last week, like I said, was a good week of training."
In order to get the production he wants this week and turn that towards the weekend, the players had to come to practice ready to go on Monday and can't have a hangover from the weekend off. According to Berhalter, they did just that.
"Yesterday's session was great and they got right back into it," he said. "So I think that that's important. I was a little nervous after the two days off we'd come in a little lethargic, but it wasn't the case."
Crew SC currently sit tied for third place in the East, seven points off the first place New York Red Bulls. The top spot is gone, but second is still within reach. If Columbus can put to practice what the team worked on last week over the final two games against TFC and D.C. United, the Black & Gold could still reach its goal and make the playoffs with some momentum.