Zero points in two games. So one point in one game is an improvement, right?
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the expectations that may or may not be fair.
High pressure from Chicago
Entering the weekend, there was a lot of talk about Columbus needing to get off to a good start. Then they didn't. It wasn't a disastrous start — Crew SC survived it — but it didn't allow the Black & Gold to sink their teeth in from the beginning.
Instead, Chicago surprisingly controlled the game for the first 15 or 20 minutes. The pure possession numbers won't tell you that, but watching the game did. The Fire brought high pressure that threw Columbus for a loop. It nearly led to a goal for the home side at one ore two moments. But, again, Crew SC survived.
It's still clear, though, that this team needs to handle pressure better. It was a smart plan by the Fire — even though it didn't result in a lead, it did get Columbus off its game from the start.
Force the issue
After a while, Crew SC did settle in to its normal rhythm. Once they did, their build-up play was solid and their possession was good. There was positive movement on and off the ball, and the ball was circulated pretty well. But for all that felt good and normal in Crew-land, there just seemed to be a lacked of intense intent in the final third.
Simply put, Columbus did not push the issue enough. It felt like the team thought that if it went through the process, the ball would just end up in the back of the net. It didn't.
After Kei Kamara was more involved in the second game, even if some of that came from dropping deeper, he was not very present against Chicago. He wasn't involved enough for a team that relies so heavily on him to score goals. And Ethan Finlay was at his liveliest of 2016, but it there never seemed to be enough intent by Crew SC to ride that — to push his matchup and to try to get him into space.
Goals don't just happen. You have to make them happen. Columbus did not.
Bailed out by absence
The Fire really, really missed David Accam, and his absence bailed the Black & Gold out in a big way. Two or three times I watched a play develop and thought, "That's a goal if Accam is on the field." That says more about Chicago than it does Columbus, but shows how thin the margins are in this league.
As previously mentioned, this was Finlay's best performance of the young season. In his 100th appearance for the club, he put up his best effort of his last four or five appearances. The finish wasn't there, but he actually used his speed to create some danger and had a bigger impact in this game than at any point in the first two contests. I thought there were a couple of instances where the team could have used Finlay even more, with some gaps in behind the wingbacks for him to create in.
This coincided with Harrison Afful's most restrained performance in some time. He still pushed up the field and provided service — which he needs to, because he plays, perhaps, the best cross on the team — but tended to stay in behind Finlay, with fewer overlaps. Was this coincidence? Probably not entirely, but cause-and-effect is difficult to decode. It's worth keeping an eye on, though, in the coming weeks, which player is making what runs on the right side, and how that connects with positive or negative performances from those two guys.
Trapp + Tchani
Along with Finlay, the defensive midfield pairing was strong. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani had a very good game. Both broke up plays and both did well with their distribution. They were critical in Crew SC's strong possession play. With the roles that they play it can be easy to shine a spotlight when they break down but look the other way when they're doing things right. The attack didn't come through on Saturday, but these guys will need to consistently put in performances like the one they did against Chicago.
One point is something
Columbus supporters wanted more. They wanted a dominant performance that signaled a return of the 2015 Black & Gold and put a hurt on the rival from up north. Instead, the Fire proved very up for the battle, caused some problems and stifled Columbus enough to keep it off the board.
But one point is better than none, which is what Crew SC had after two games. It also wasn't a disaster of a road performance, which is mostly what the team had for the first third of last season.
So, from that perspective, you swallow an unmemorable road game and move on.
Expectations for this team may be built too much on where Crew SC ended up — MLS Cup — rather than how it got there — an exciting but up-and-down regular season before playing great at the perfect time. It shouldn't be that shocking that this team can lose to a really good team and then put together two straight lackluster results. (And let's face it, if Columbus had defeated the Philadelphia Union, we're probably not even talking about this.)
But at some point the Black & Gold need to put together 90 minutes of continuously strong play. A look at the schedule ahead does not bode well. At FC Dallas, at Montreal, an improved NYCFC, an improved Houston, at Seattle, hosting Montreal. Every game offers something worrisome if not downright scary.
But this is MLS. There's a hill to climb, but there was always going to be, and the very nature of this league is that anyone can change their fortune on any day against anyone.
A PENNY FOR A BONUS THOUGHT: Veljko Paunovic
Welcome to the league, Veljko. (At least, as a coach)
It's fun to see a coach who is willing to go outside the box (and it's fun to have two of them at the same time, along with Patrick Vieira). Going with three in the back, switching things up with a press, a willingness to try all sorts of formations inside of a game — the willingness to experiment and tweak adds a positive layer to MLS.