There's a growing realization that good isn't good enough as the big picture of the 2016 Crew SC season gets a little too hard to ignore. Columbus have been shuffling, zombie-like, through the early part of the season, then the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain blowup and subsequent trade pulled the focus off the field and to the problems, real or imagined, in the locker room. The story stopped being about underperformance on the field and became about disfunction off it.
With that distraction, the big picture was obscured. In isolation, this team has gotten good results. After the trade, Crew SC tied the best team in MLS, the Colorado Rapids. Good result during a trying week. They pull out a tie against the high flying Sebastian Giovinco on the road in Toronto with an out of position rookie playing center back. Clean sheet, good result.
It's the bigger picture where the clouds are no longer just forming on the periphery. Flooding rain is imminent. Crew SC has two wins on the year, after 11 games, nearly a third of the season. This team, a would be MLS Cup contender, now sits 19th out of 20 teams in MLS. They are only outpacing the offensively inept Chicago Fire. The offense is now missing a 22 goal scorer and is decidedly less explosive as they fall to the bottom of the pack in goals scored.
The two wins have are similarly uninspiring. Crew SC took down NYCFC at home, but were outshot and could have let that result slip because of a very loose defensive effort. Columbus beat Houston, but it was an uninspiring result against a team that was down to 10 men for nearly 75 minutes. The Dynamo appeared content to play for a narrow loss and make up the difference in the nonexistent second leg.
On the field, the starting eleven that head coach Gregg Berhalter has preferred during much of his tenure has failed to perform. Ethan Finlay is woefully out of form and has found the bench for two consecutive games for Cedrick Mabwati. Likewise Waylon Francis has lost his spot to journeyman Corey Ashe. None of the changes have altered the direction that Crew SC were on.
This week the team lost Gaston Sauro for most, if not all, of the season to a knee injury. Crew SC was dangerously thin at center back with Amro Tarek leaving the team in search of more playing time and Tyson Wahl recovering from a concussion. Michael Parkhurst had just separated his shoulder the week before. In a system that demands the occasional superhuman performance from the defensive spine, the current backups are a career reserve outside back and a rookie defensive midfielder.
As goals don't come and points get dropped, questions about Berhalter's prized system are getting louder. The new striker starting striker, Ola Kamara is still trying to fit into the team, an offense that is built off of crosses into the box. There's still quite a few crosses, but to a player who isn't going to get on the end of them as effectively. Crew SC has 12 goals in 11 games.
The transfer window reopens on July 4th and Crew SC have allocation money to spend. That's useful, but Berhalter has a narrow window to try and find an impact player that fits the way the team is built. A player coming in midseason would have 18 games at most to adapt to a new league, a new team, and make an impact. It's a path with significant risks.
The big picture is getting pretty dark. Berhalter is a firm believer in scoring more than the other team. He's content to give up a goal if Crew SC is scoring two. Now that they aren't scoring, those 2-1 wins are turning into 1-1 ties or even 0-1 losses.
The East is wide open. Real Salt Lake and a trip to Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia are on the schedule. Two losses would leave Columbus within close distance to the playoffs. Two wins would push Crew SC to the top of the conference, but still well off the upper tier of MLS. This season isn't lost. Thank the parity of the East for that.