The Massive Report staff was asked who had the most disappointing performance in 2016. The open ended questions lead in some interesting directions.
Nathanial Marhefka - Tony Tchani
My true answer here would be every Crew SC player, as I think the season was the fault on many, or the collective rather than individual. But since I must chose, I will go with Tony Tchani. Sure there were injury issues throughout the season, but for me it was the Cameroonian who was the lowest performing of the resident starters. While I think he may be the best ball-winning midfielder in the league, he struggled to adapt to Berhalter’s demands as a box to box player or as a attacking midfielder.
If we are to look at this from a statistical basis: With Tony Tchani in the lineup, Crew SC was 2-8-11 (or a win percentage of 9.4%). Without, the team was 6-4-3 (46.2% wins). Without Tchani, the offense and defense are both drastically improved with goals-scored-per-game rising from 1.10 to 2.08 and goals-against-per-game cutting from 1.81 to 1.54. It is this trend that makes me think he does not fit the team setup under Gregg Berhalter regime.
Kris Landis - Gregg Berhalter
Perhaps this is not quite right for the question, but I think Gregg Berhalter was most disappointing for Crew SC this year. It was obvious from early on this season that his tactic had been figured out, and he'd have to find an answer for teams effectively game-planning them. The answer never came. His Crew SC squads were consistently out-coached for much of the season, and his lack of tactical change during the middle part of the season effectively doomed the team. Changes were eventually made, but they were firmly in the too little, too late column. For a coach who (at one point) was publicly being touted as a future USMNT candidate, it wasn't good enough. And while some players put in heavily disappointing campaigns, this team's problems were systemic, and that all traces back to one man.
J. Daniel Rollins - Ethan Finlay
It’s important to remember that most disappointing doesn’t mean worst. There were worse players on the pitch this season than Columbus midfielder Ethan Finlay. However, for many Crew SC fans — and possibly even Finlay himself — 2016 was a disappointing season. 2015 saw Finlay as the first player in club history to record double digits in both goals (12) and assists (13) and was named to the Best XI. Following the 2015 season, Finlay received his first call up to the national team and has been capped three times since.
So what happened in 2016?
Following a less-than-stellar start, the 26-year old midfielder found himself benched midway through the season. What once was a sure thing in the starting XI — starting in 61-straight MLS matches — was now fighting for minutes. Late in the season, Finlay’s play began to take form, netting five of his six goals and three of his nine assists after August 13.
While Finlay finished the season as the second leading goal-scorer and second in assists, he slow start out of the gate matched the of the club. By the time Finlay’s form came to take shape, the season was essentially a lost cause.
Josh Mlot - Gregg Berhalter
It seemed really unfair to pick a single disappointing player when there were so many. Ethan Finlay's half-season debacle. Tony Tchani's ups and downs (with a whole lot more of the latter). Waylon Francis going from top-tier left back to losing his grip on the starting job and then getting injured. Wil Trapp stagnating. So I'll do what we do when we don't know who to blame — blame the guy in charge. I've not given up on Berhalter, but this year we saw a team that plateaued. I don't know if it was a mental thing after a run to MLS Cup, or if a bunch of guys just regressed at the same time. Either way, it's Berhalter's job to get the most out of his guys, and that didn't seem to happen for large stretches of the season. Plus, we all know his system is at least partially to blame for the team's defensive issues, and he missed on some guys he brought in to bolster the team who not pan out. I still believe this team can win with GB in charge (I know injuries were a challenge in 2016), and I believe he can figure things out. But I also will lay some blame at his feet for how 2016 went. I'll say it in my best parental voice: "I still believe you in, but I'm disappointed."
Andrew Todd-Smith - Ethan Finlay
2016 was a year when Columbus' attack could have used all the help it could possibly muster, given No. 10 Federico Higuain sports hernia layoff and the changing of the guard that took place with strikers named Kamara. Circumstantially, Crew SC needed impeccable work from its wingers. Along the left flank, that largely did happen, as Justin Meram's evolution into a dynamic chance-creating dribbling machine blossomed. On the right side, however, Ethan Finlay left a lot to be desired. Outside back Harrison Afful was quite effective and thereby made the flanking effort seem passably efficient, but it could have been fearsome had Finlay regained his 2015 form. For someone who had 12 goals and 13 assists last year, dropping off to the tune of six and nine this year just doesn't cut it. Finlay often struggled to amass meaningful touches and ultimately did not live up to the lofty expectations he set for himself with his stellar 2015 campaign.
Matt Weisgarber - Wil Trapp
Trapp is now 23. In his third year in MLS I hoped to see a large step forward in his development. Instead he seemed to stagnate. He was anonymous for large parts of the season and did little to protect the backline or contribute to the attack. He is too slow to stall a counter attack and doesn't have the 1-1 strength to cover for out of position centerbacks. His best strength is the accurate long ball and field switching (something Berhalter's system ignores for some reason) so perhaps his stagnation isn't all his fault. It is difficult to see a progression where Trapp markedly improves in Berhalter's system. It also isn't his fault he is marketed as the face of the franchise, but he is far from living up to the hype. For these reasons, Wil Trapp is the most disappointing Columbus player this year.
Sam Fahmi - Ethan Finlay
After a phenomenal 2015 season, Finlay's 2016 campaign fell sideways. Missing open nets, sure goals, bad crossings, inability to beat defenders one on one, even his speed failed him. I wish I could point to something specific that would have led to his sup-par season. Finlay struggling was probably a lead cause to Kei's inability to score in his few games with the Crew this season. The silver lining though is that he started to find his old self again in the last few games. Hopefully that will lead to a better 2017
Patrick Guldan - Gregg Berhalter
Columbus Crew SC soccer begins and ends with Gregg Berhalter. He's instilled a soccer philosophy from the first team to the academy. He has control over transfers. He decides who lines up on game day. More than any other individual, no one has the impact over the team that the Director of Soccer Operations does in Columbus.
There were times that Crew SC looked stagnant on offense. The 58 goals allowed were the second worst in team history. The Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain feud cost Columbus their MVP finalist as Kamara was quickly traded away, just months after collecting a new contract in the offseason. When Crew SC didn't live up to the lofty goals of an MLS Cup run... not even making the playoffs, that falls to Berhalter.
Berhalter still enjoys the support of owner Anthony Precourt, but he can't afford another 2016. As the focus turns to 2017, Berhalter will have to process what went wrong and how not to repeat the same mistakes.
Patrick Murphy - Ethan Finlay
I think the biggest reason I went this way has nothing to do with stats or regression or anything, but the fact that I spoke with Ethan Finlay multiple times this year about his performance and he made it clear he wasn’t living up to his own standards. He wasn’t worried about his numbers, but his play and while he was doing some things well, it wasn’t at the level he knows he can reach.
While he only scored six goals — down from 12 a year ago and 11 the season before — Finlay did manage nine assists, but it was the lack of those dangerous runs in behind the defenses. I think losing Kei Kamara, which attracted the attention of defenders, certainly hurt Finlay, but I also think teams figured out how to neutralize him a bit by playing off and not letting his speed beat them.
I watched Finlay work tirelessly after practice, so the effort to improve is there. The 26-year old has felt club success and began to sniff the national team. I believe this will be a very big offseason to determine whether he becomes a star or a player who had two very good years but could never put it all together. We shall see.
Columbus Crew SC's most disappointing performance is Ethan Finlay with three votes. Gregg Berhalter finished in second (3 votes) and Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp each received a vote.