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Old Focus Takes Center Stage for Columbus Crew SC, but Current Issues Can't be Ignored

The Black & Gold have to be wary about conceding late in a close game against the Fire, while also figuring out how to stop allowing the opening goal.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

For Columbus Crew SC, the story has been the same the last seven matches. The Black & Gold find themselves behind in the match and attempt to battle back.

Crew SC has won two of those matches while drawing in two of them. The other three have been losses.

As Columbus prepares to take on the Chicago Fire Wednesday night, the concern shifts from conceding early to conceding late, or conceding at all.

"I'm not worried about conceding first," head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week. "What I'm worried about is conceding and that's what's becoming concerning."

In the first meeting between these two Eastern Conference rivals, Crew SC appeared to have the game won at 2-1, but a stoppage time header in the 94th minute from second half substitute Jason Johnson robbed the Black & Gold of two points.

"They scored late again last week and it's the same guy," Berhalter said when asked about his concern of something similar happening again. "So hopefully he doesn't come in in the last couple of minutes of the game. But if he does, we should be prepared because he may."

On Saturday, it was Johnson again against the Seattle Sounders.

This time, instead of heading home across from former Crew SC defender Eric Gehrig, Johnson took off during a counterattack, receiving a pass on an overlapping run and cutting to his left foot inside the Sounders' 18-yard box. He quickly fired shot that found the back of the net, once again in stoppage time, and caused Bridgeview to erupt.

Those two late strikes are the only two goals of the season for Johnson.

It's been an interesting run for Columbus since the Fire earned that 2-2 draw at MAPFRE Stadium. The team found itself up twice on the road against Orlando City SC the following week, but once again conceded late to settle for a tie.

It appeared at that time it was the late goals that were costing Crew SC, but now it's become the early ones.

In these seven matches since where Columbus has conceded first, the average time of the first goal allowed is the 23rd minute.

That wouldn't be so troubling if the Black & Gold scored previous to that, but it has not been the case of late.

Just as Berhalter's men learned from their mistakes and figured out the late goal issue, they will have to do the same with conceding early. As the head coach pointed out, this is not a defensive issue, but a team issue.

"I would point out that we're stressing that it's not individuals, it's a team game," he said. "We're a team that plays as a unit so we defend and attack as a unit and it hasn't been good enough."

While much of the blame has been placed on the defense, a group that hasn't kept a clean sheet since April 18, it is not just the back four that has come out sleeping.

If the whole team, midfield and forwards included, plays Crew SC's typical possession, attacking style from the opening whistle, the New England Revolution likely don't score less than a minute into the contest. If they play the way they like, Anatole Abang probably doesn't beat Steve Clark eight minutes in and the Montreal Impact don't go up 2-0 in the opening eight minutes.

What's in the past is in the past and the Black & Gold can't change that. What they can do is learn from it. Berhalter's men will be focused on not allowing history to repeat itself Wednesday night. They don't want to concede early or allow the Fire to equalize late.

If the team can do that, maybe then Columbus can finally get it's first win on the road in 2015.