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Crew SC's statements about struggles, need for focus become prophetic versus Impact

Listening to Coach Berhalter and the players last week, it was clear that they knew what they needed to do, but after a second-half collapse versus Montreal it's the same story.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday saw Columbus Crew SC find a way to squander a three-goal lead over the visiting Montreal Impact in a wild match between Eastern Conference foes that resulted in a 4-4 draw.

Kei Kamara scored Columbus' first two goals, while fellow Designated Player Federico Higuaín notched the latter two. But the 4-1 advantage—provided by the No. 10's penalty kick for his second score of the night after the two DPs argued over who'd get the chance from the spot—would disintegrate in front of a meager crowd of just over 14,000 people.

A stoppage time goal put in by former Crew SC striker Dominic Oduro doomed the home club to a singular point when three should have been secure with a three-goal lead, even against top competition.

But, then again, head coach Gregg Berhalter discussed the unexpected nature of how matches can pan out in this league.

"Anything happens, and I think you have to play to the final whistle. That's one thing in the MLS that you know. You don't rest easy until that whistle blows. You see, every single game, it's amazing. Absolutely amazing," Berhalter said after the final training session at the Obetz practice facility before the Seattle game, which took place April 30.

"As a coach, you sweat everything. Even if it's 4-0, you know, you still worry. You sit on the bench and worry. It's a terrible job."

Berhalter's words were referring to how the Houston Dynamo got one last scoring opportunity versus Columbus with an awarded corner kick in the waning seconds of what ended as a 1-0 Crew SC win. He used 4-0 as a hyperbolic example to explain the stress of any game whose outcome has yet to be decided, that nothing is secure.

His statement, thought, took on an eerily prophetic and almost ironic tone when his team conceded nearly that same outlandishly large advantage exactly nine days later to Montreal.

Left winger Justin Meram had said on Thursday, May 5, after a training session at MAPFRE Stadium that, "Right now, I think we're on the wrong end of things, as you saw in the Seattle game."

A 1-0 defeat in the Pacific Northwest by way of an 88th minute Jordan Morris goal had Columbus reeling coming into the training week for the Montreal match.

Unfortunately for Black & Gold supporters, their team remains right where Meram described after a tumultuous second half versus the Impact resulted in the evaporation of two crucial standings points.

Montreal outshot Crew SC, 19-14, and more than doubled the Ohio side's on-target efforts by a 12-5 margin on a night when offensive chances were coming abundantly for both teams. The frustrating part for a possession team like Columbus is they can do so much quite well but then have a few mistakes during a few moments decide games in which they otherwise play respectably well.

"You have to continue to focus on what you can control, and we have quality enough strikers that the goals will come," midfielder Wil Trapp said Thursday. "Defensively, the effort has been very good. I think it's a mentality, it's an intensity and a focus. That's what wins games in this league. You can't step out on the field and assume that your style of play and your spacing and your movement is going to win the game."

The Gahanna native would prove to be correct about both the attack coming together and a lack of focus spawning an inability to win, as Crew SC scored plenty but then appeared to sit back early in the second half Saturday and morph from a team confident in possessing into one playing outside its comfort zone and overthinking its sequences.

"I just think, as a whole, we're doing all right but we're just not putting away our chances and our defense is playing great," Meram said Thursday before the meltdown against Montreal. "Steve [Clark]'s doing what he needs to do and he's shown that. And I think it's just, we aren't putting the chances away we should be putting away. So, without looking at Steve and saying, ‘You bailed us out,' you know, he had his performance and we didn't have our performance, particularly when we could [have] put them away."

Again, eerily clairvoyant of a Crew SC midfielder to analyze a past contest in such a way that then accurately profiles the team's very next performance: Clark amassed a career-high eight saves while receiving relatively little help from a back line that Montreal drove at all night.

"They're good on the counter, they're very good in transition moments. Ignacio Piatti is one of the best in the league at running at defenders and finding passes," Trapp said.

Right again, Wil.

Piatti enjoyed a brace Saturday, and the goal that evened the score at 1-1 was a picturesque bender that swooped past a diving Clark's fingertips in the 26th minute. Forward Didier Drogba easily corralled the ball at the left corner of the 18-yard box and then deftly poked it to Piatti for the helper in between Michael Parkhurst and Ethan Finlay, making Crew SC's defense look disorganized and out of shape.

Weirdly enough, Parkhurst himself got an assist against Montreal when his long ball lured Impact keeper Evan Bush out from his penalty box to clear. When Bush missed on that effort, Kamara easily dribbled past him instead for a first-half stoppage time goal to pull ahead to 2-1.

As peculiar as a center back notching a point from the back edge of the middle third of the field was Columbus' inability to put the game away, considering Columbus' collective performance rated higher statistically than the victorious Impact's, according to WhoScored.com. The home club also outdid its guests by 10 percentage points in passing accuracy.

All for nought, though, as a disappointing draw leaves a Crew SC squad in need of positive momentum after largely struggling on the road to begin the year and apparently unable to close at home.

Head coach Gregg Berhalter mentioned Thursday that with "defensive work, you know, you're never fully satisfied. You want to keep improving. I think any time you give up a goal, you know, you want to look at why you're giving up the goal and how you're giving it up and make improvements."

Suffice it to say there will be plenty of miscues to sift through when reviewing game film, as Columbus must address inefficiencies before this weekend's home showdown against the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids.

The good news for Columbus fans—during a time when their team struggles to solidify its on-pitch identity and quash internal squabbles—is that the Rapids have but one road win so far this year, and that came April 13 at Sporting Kansas City.

"Mindset's good, you know? It's another home game. They're a counterattack team, we're a possession team. They try to possess too but when it comes to possession, we're definitely going to dominate that part. But it's all about who scores the most goals at the end of the day. And, for us, again, being here, being at home, you know, we have to feed off that energy."

That was Kei Kamara speaking, and in the theme of past statements suddenly pertaining to the present, we shall have to see whether they become as prophetic as those of his teammates and coach: Kamara said those words Thursday in advance of the Montreal match, but the assertions all still apply to the upcoming match against Colorado.

Another contest against an effective transitional team—the Rapids have been outpossessed in six straight league games—offers another chance for Columbus to figure itself out if the players can coalesce just enough to translate statistical edges into earned and, more importantly, protected leads.

Crew SC takes on Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium.