Many this season have been critical of Gregg Berhalter. The Columbus Crew SC head coach, who managed much success in his first two seasons in charge of the Black & Gold, has struggled to find results in his third year as manager.
Fans and pundits alike have questioned why Berhalter hasn’t made more changes to his team or altered the tactics that perplexed Major League Soccer teams since 2014.
Despite only three wins and 19 points through 21 matches, there is at least one person who still enjoys watching Crew SC’s possession-style of play, even if it’s not wielding results at the moment.
"I really like the way they play football," New York City FC manager Patrick Vieira told MLSSoccer.com this week. "I really like the way the manager wants the team to play, and when I watch them from home, I really enjoy watching them play because they have a clear philosophy, a clear way to play."
Columbus has not won a match in nine attempts and have just five points since May 28. Berhalter and his players insist that the team, which has dealt with several important injuries, still believes in the system and no one seems insistent on changing.
"They are not in a position where they are supposed to with the way they play," he said in the interview. "They’ve been really unlucky with injuries, with some of the scenarios in games. We are not looking at the league table because the league table doesn’t tell us how well this team has been playing.
"I strongly believe if you look at the record of the manager, they have more success playing that way than not. This is just about what you believe is right and wrong. I like watching them play. I really enjoy it."
Vieira’s comments come ahead of City’s meeting with Crew SC on Saturday night. New York City has already come to MAPFRE Stadium once this season, when the Black & Gold handed NYCFC one of its seven losses on the year. Now the two teams meet again in the same venue.
When asked about the comments this week, Berhalter accepted the compliment from the French World Cup winner, but also put things in perspective.
"It’s obviously a compliment coming from a colleague, but in the same respect it doesn’t change our situation," the Columbus head coach said. "We’re still focused on getting back to where we feel we should be and I think it will make a good game. They’re a good team."
He also defended New York City, who beat the club’s rivals from across the Hudson River for the first time ever earlier this season.
"I remember some comments from Red Bull saying the referees give them protection and their big players — I don’t agree with that at all," Berhalter said. "I don’t think they need it. They’re a good team. They have good players. They’re smart how they play. They don’t rely on the referees for help, that’s for sure."
In the same season where Berhalter has resisted to make too many changes to his side, Vieira has found success by making key alterations to his team. Despite being what some might call stubborn, Berhalter does recognize what adjustments have done for NYCFC.
"I think Patrick Vieira’s done a good job of adapting to the league and understanding what it’s going to take to be successful in this league," he said. "They’ve got a couple new players in Jack Harrison. They’ve moved a couple guys around in different positions. But it’s a good team."
While the two managers played nice in the media this week, they will be fierce competitors in Saturday’s match. City will look to build on their one-point lead atop the Eastern Conference, while Crew SC hope to begin a climb back up the table.
With the likes of David Villa (13 goals scored), Frank Lampard (eight goals) and Andrea Pirlo (eight assists) on the NYCFC side and Ola Kamara (10 goals in 11 starts) and Federico Higuain (38 goals and 35 assists in his MLS career) paired together once again for the Black & Gold, it should be an entertaining contest.
"They’re a very good team and it’s going to be a fun game," Berhalter said. "We’re going to make them work and they’re going to make us work. It will be a good game."
A fun game may entertain some, but three points are what Crew SC are desperate for in this match.
"I wish there were points available for nice comments," Berhalter joked. "We’d be all set."