Tuesday night was another example of failure by Columbus Crew SC to advance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire. Despite continuous insistence by players and staff that the Open Cup, the tournament Crew SC earned the its first ever title, was important, head coach Gregg Berhalter rolled out a 3-5-2 formation rarely seen in black and gold and it took a while for the players to adjust.
While Berhalter is never too high or low, his postmatch comments did not appear as ones of a severely disappointed manager.
"It leaves us without the ability to win an Open Cup title and I think that’s about it," Berhalter said when asked where this loss puts his team. "Our sights now are on the league and moving up in the table. We believe we have a good team, but the table doesn’t lie. So we need to start climbing. We believe it and we need to show it. That’s what these next 17 games are about."
Berhalter’s admittance that his club’s place in the table, ninth place in the Eastern Conference with just three wins in 2016, is becoming the reality is refreshing. What is concerning is the inability for Crew SC to make necessary changes to help rectify this disappointing ranking.
"I think we had momentum the whole game," Berhalter said of Tuesday. "The goals came clearly against the run of play. Chicago defended for 90 minutes. You guys saw the game. Listen, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s not a negative, they won the game and they are in the next round, we are not."
"Control" of the game is a relative term. Columbus did have an impressive 67.8 percent of the possession in the loss, but the inability to create dangerous chances with so much of the ball is concerning.
This is nothing new for the Black & Gold. Once teams adjusted to the possession-style Berhalter prefers, it became apparent that it is difficult for Crew SC — or most teams for that matter — to break down a team focused on bunkering and counter.
This is what the Fire did and the stat sheet shows Chicago was the better team because Chicago won the game. Conceding two goals in the opening half an hour only made that easier for the Men in Red.
"We had the lion’s share of the possession, but possession doesn’t mean anything if you give up two goals," midfielder Wil Trapp said following the match. "So that was what was so disappointing about it."
For both Berhalter and Trapp, the second half against the Fire was an improvement, but it was not enough of one. While Columbus did register more shots (10 in the second half as compared to six in the first) the shots on goal were one each and the lone second half effort on frame came from a questionable penalty kick.
In all four matches in Junes, the Black & Gold controlled possession but totaled 10 shots on goal — five of which came against the Philadelphia Union in a 3-2 loss.
Yes, Crew SC is dealing with a plethora of injuries and no, the team is not making excuses for that. Maybe the expectations were too high to begin the year, but no one saw this team struggling this bad.
There are likely summer reinforcements coming once the transfer window opens in early July, but those players will need time to adjust not only the system but also the grueling summer months of Major League Soccer.
What is concerning is that we are nearly at the midpoint of the season and the sense of urgency isn’t there. While the Black & Gold are only four points back of the playoff line, there is little sign that the offense is coming together after the trade of Kei Kamara and the defense, while better than a year ago, can only limit the damage so much.
For a club that was a goal away from an MLS Cup a year ago, there are so many questions about the failures so far in 2016 and too few answers. Continued acceptance of possession without results, draws at home and an inability to win on the road could result in one of the most disappointing turnarounds in recent MLS memory.