Since taking over as the head coach of Columbus Crew SC, Gregg Berhalter has stuck to the same line when it comes to his team's style of play. The Black and Gold want to possess the ball and make the other team work to get it back. They want to take the game to the opposition.
The head coach reiterated that point as recently as last Friday.
"We try to take our game to every team whether we're home or away," Berhalter said.
On Wednesday night though, Crew SC adopted a different philosophy for the first time in over a year. After playing the same possession style of play in every game, Berhalter decided to change things up for Wednesday's match with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"It wasn't about possession for us this game," he explained to The Dispatch. "It was about defensive shape and having a good compactness. I watched the game against L.A. and they were extremely dangerous on the counter and we knew they would give us fits if we opened up. The game plan was different than our normal game plan. Compact shape and we'll open up space on the counter attack and once we do they'll be vulnerable."
There are a few reasons why Berhalter elected to make this change. He was without a key cog in the possession game due to the suspension of playmaker Federico Higuain. The Black and Gold also went without center back Emanuel Pogatetz, left back Waylon Francis, right back Hernan Grana, and midfielder Wil Trapp only played 45 minutes.
Because of this, it's hard to imagine the team playing their usual system successfully against Major League Soccer's best team at this point in the season.
Could it also be possible that Berhalter has learned that his approach in year one won't work in MLS?
Last year, the Crew SC head coach admitted to handling match congestion poorly. This season, he elected to hold some of his older players out of this game, allowing them to remain in Columbus, due to two games in four days on turf.
With teams starting to figure out how the Black and Gold play, Berhalter may have decided it's time to change things up. While it's unlikely that he will adopt this approach permanently, it's possible the team will use this more defensive philosophy on the road against teams that can pressure and counter.
This is not unheard of in MLS. Both Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, who play a similar style to Crew SC, have played defensive in order to get results on the road, including getting results in Columbus a year ago.
Berhalter recently told the media that he watched teams around the world that play a similar style to his to see how those clubs combat the high press that has been so disruptive. What he might have realized is that some of those teams don't have the talent to play the way they would like all the time and have to change things up against certain opposition.
With his talent depleted for the Vancouver game, Berhalter chose to play the safest way and although the team didn't win the match, they got out with a hard fought tie and a point on the road.
Hardly anyone would have asked for a better result, so Berhalter's tactics allowed him to ultimately come out on top.