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Columbus Crew SC Using the Open Cup to Springboard League Success

After getting back to winning ways in the Open Cup, Columbus want to do the same in league play.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There's no debating it; it's been a rough last month for Columbus Crew SC.

The Black & Gold have gone six games without a win in Major League Soccer (0-3-3 over that stretch) and have one win in the team's last eight league contests.

Last Saturday's 1-1 home draw with the LA Galaxy was a win of sorts, as Crew SC didn't concede two goals for the first time in seven matches.

On Wednesday night, Columbus stepped out of MLS play and into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The change in competition was like a breath of fresh air for the Black & Gold, who defeated the Richmond Kickers 3-1.

"I think it was good," head coach Gregg Berhalter said following the match. "The guys worked extremely hard and they applied what we asked of them. They stayed concentrated, they stayed focused, they moved the ball quickly and it wasn't easy against a well-organized opponent."

After some of the recent disappointing results, Berhalter spoke of speed and movement. His team wasn't creating the space it typically does and therefore was easier to defend.

Last night, albeit against perceived weaker opponent, Crew SC opened those gaps and created dangerous chances like at the beginning of the season.

"I think it was the quick ball movement to switch the field and open up the spaces," Berhalter explained. "Once we had the space on the side, we were taking advantage of that with the numbers that we were moving over to that space. Overall, I think it was pretty good."

The Black & Gold shifted from the team's typical 4-4-1-1 formation to a fluid 3-5-2 that Berhalter referred to as a 3-2-3-2 after the match.

The switch didn't change what Crew SC wanted to do. Possession, which the team dominated, was still an emphasis and getting the ball wide - to wingers rather than wing backs - was stressed. All of this went back to movement.

"We played five in the middle and one of the big keys for us to come out was to progress that wing play and I thought we did well," midfielder Hector Jimenez said. "[Chad Barson] in particular, that first half, I think we had maybe eight or nine crosses from the right side and part of that was moving the ball from side to side.

"With five guys in the midfield, it was key that we move the ball around. There were the triangles in there, good combinations and most importantly, we were patient with it. There were times there in the first half that we were really patient, and we were able to get some good plays and some good open looks."

Not only did this help Columbus advance to the Open Cup Round of 16, but also earned the club its first road win of the season. In league play this year, Crew SC is 0-3-4 with a -1 goal differential away from MAPFRE Stadium.

While this result won't change that road record, it does give the team confidence as it moves forward in the season.

"This is our first road win this year," Jimenez said. "So hopefully we can carry that momentum into our next away game, which is at [Real Salt Lake]."

It is not just on the road that the Black & Gold could use some momentum. Crew SC is 0-1-2 in their last three matches at home, a place the team wants to make a fortress. Columbus' next MLS match is at MAPFRE Stadium next Wednesday against the New England Revolution, an Eastern Conference opponent the side would love to take three points from.

Forward Adam Bedell, who scored two of the goals in his first appearance for Crew SC this year, would love to see his team use this win to propel the Black & Gold forward for the rest of the year.

"Obviously, we don't have a game this weekend, but we've got to use this for momentum going into MLS," he said. "Hopefully in our next game, we can get a win against New England. Obviously for the Open Cup, it is a big tournament, and obviously we want to win this too so it's momentum and we've got to use it."