"Tonight clearly wasn’t good enough. I didn’t think we deserved to get anything out of that game."
These were a sample of Gregg Berhalter’s comments following Columbus Crew SC’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Toronto FC on Sunday evening.
The loss, Crew SC’s eighth of the season, leaves the Black & Gold with only three victories in 2016 and extends a winless streak to nine matches dating back to May 28.
This is not the first time Berhalter has criticized his team in recent contests. Following the previous game, a 2-2 draw with Orlando City SC where Columbus held a 2-0 lead in the second half, the head coach let it be known he was not happy with the performance.
"I think it had to do with what we weren’t doing. We weren’t getting enough pressure on the ball. Individual, one v. one defending was very bad," Berhalter said.
"In the second half we allowed them too much space, we weren’t shifting quick enough, we didn’t put enough pressure on the ball and they can hurt you. Overall, extremely disappointed with the effort in the second half.
"I think when you see some of that today, that’s not good. That’s not a good team."
Berhalter said the team would face some hard questions after not responding to three must-win home matches and guaranteed fans would see "guys on the field that are going to keep fighting."
According to Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch, Berhalter "lit into" his team and "threatened to jettison players" following the tie with the Lions and was very animated in the practice session that followed.
Then Sunday came and Berhalter made just two changes from the side that allowed a 2-goal lead to evaporate into a loss: A swap at left back and a reintroduction of a healthier Federico Higuain into the starting lineup.
"When I went back and watched the video [of the Orlando game], it’s not frustration with the 90 minutes," Berhalter said on Saturday. "It’s frustration with about 15 of those 90 and clearly looking at those 15 and saying, ‘This has got to be better.’ And I’m specifically talking about the period from about 60 to 75 where we just weren’t good enough, weren’t good for that period.
"What we saw in this week of training was everyone I would say put in good work and it was very clear to see that guys have an understanding of what this is about and what work it’s going to need to be successful."
If it appeared clear in training, it is not translating on the field.
It is easy to see where the wires are getting crossed. When the team underperforms this year, disappointment is shared and tactics are adjusted but few visible changes are made. Berhalter is yet to make a statement by benching sure-fire starters, electing to ride with what got him near the bottom of the table.
Twelve players have played over 1,000 minutes for a Crew SC team with just 19 points through 21 matches. Ethan Finlay was removed from his starting role as was Waylon Francis, but few other unforced changes have been made to the starting 11.
Admittedly, injuries have made it hard for Berhalter to change too much, but the head coach has traditionally stuck with the same group of guys throughout a season.
Before 2016, it was hard to argue with Berhalter’s methods. He guided Columbus back to the playoffs after a 3-year drought in his first season in charge and to the MLS Cup Final in his second.
Even during the last two years, Berhalter has mentioned potential lineup changes during the week but often turned back to the same core group come game day.
This year has not yielded the same results and the previous two and the playoffs are quickly slipping away.
Sunday’s performance showed little fight from a team that continues to state belief in what it is doing. Berhalter has proven his tactics can work in MLS when executed properly, but the players admit they are not getting the job done.
"I think everybody on the team needs to look themselves in the mirror," goalkeeper Steve Clark said after the Orlando match.
"Do we keep playing our game or do we want to shell up?"
The game isn’t working and something has got to change. If it’s not an attitude adjustment by the players then maybe it’s time to jettison some of those players to the bench.
Otherwise, a once promising team may be in store for one of the worst turnarounds in MLS history.