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Six Thought Box: Halfway There

Six thoughts on Crew SC’s trip south to Atalanta.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC headed south for their first MLS meeting with Atlanta United, losing 3-1. Here are six thoughts.

Disappointment, Not Disaster

After the last few Crew SC losses, this one doesn’t seem as bad. Not that it’s particularly good, but after a 5-0 waffle stomping to a rival, a late collapse in a game they were controlling, and a loss to a USL side this result doesn’t really feel like that big of a deal. Which says a lot about this season, I guess.

There were some chances that went begging, which made a draw a real possibility. But the fact is that a loss on the road to a very good Atlanta side isn’t really that big of a deal, taken by itself. The problem is you can’t just take it by itself. You can’t look at the result in a vacuum, and in context of the season it’s yet another disappointment.

Quality Control

At the risk of sounding repetitive, this Columbus side are in desperate need of quality attacking options off the bench. With several starters underperforming, Gregg Berhalter’s side need a lift from their bench. The simple fact is the lift has been lacking.

Niko Hansen has shown flashes of skill, but has not been able to consistently show it. With Kekuta Manneh (hurt for this match) unable to push in to Berhalter’s trust zone, that leaves Adam Jahn as the only other offensive option, which is a very bad place to be if you’re Crew SC.

The Black & Gold don’t have much wiggle room as far as the roster goes, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious offensive reinforcements are needed.

Effort Isn’t Enough

It’s not only the bench that has been lacking that illusive quality. Ethan Finlay had two fantastic chances in this match. One was saved and one, the better of the two, was missed entirely. The shot that was saved was his first shot on goal since the opening match of the year.

For a key piece of the offense, that is simply not good enough. Finlay is often heralded for his never-say-die attitude, which was on display when he chased down a ball everyone else had given up on and turned it into a cross, but at this point effort is no longer enough without some quality end product to go with it. The problem is that there’s no one to push him for that spot, as mentioned above.

Finlay isn’t the only guilty party. Jonathan Mensah, who has been the target of much scorn this season, had a fantastic chance to equalize in the 70th minute. This Black & Gold can be accused of a lot of things, but lacking heart isn’t one of them. Sadly, we are at the point of the season where heart is not enough.

Too Much Tinkering?

Saturday marked the 12th different backline Berhalter has set out this season. The side was rotated heavily following the U.S. Open Cup debacle, but that number is staggering. Crew SC has lacked consistency all year, and I’m beginning to think that starts with not being able to field a consistent backline.

This isn’t some groundbreaking insight, but teams that have a solid, consistent defense tend to perform better. I don’t see Columbus “settling down” until Berhalter settles on his first-choice back four, then sticks with them.

The Ola Kamara-Federico Higuain-Justin Meram attacking trio has performed well for much of this season, and Artur and Wil Trapp have developed a real promising partnership, but none of that matters if the defense is continuing to make errors due to not being comfortable with the system or with each other.

A Bright Spot

Artur was quietly fantastic on Saturday.

The midfielder operated as the outlet for the back line, often under pressure from the Atlanta attack, quickly moving the ball with one touch. The team has struggled with that in general this season, and tonight would have been much worse without Artur’s steady hand. As the season has gone on I’ve been more and more impressed with the young Brazilian, his positioning, his work rate, and his passing. He’s raw, and still needs to add to the offensive side of his game if he is to fulfill his potential as a true two-way midfield dominator, but he is becoming one of my favorite players to watch, and someone I’m incredibly excited to see develop.

Halfway Home

This match marked the halfway point in the Crew SC season.

On one hand, the team has more points and more wins than this time last year. On the other, there has been a string of disappointing, sometimes downright embarrassing results and they have more losses than last year as well.

The team has had some real high points, shutting out a very good Orlando City, coming back to beat Toronto C, and dominating the Seattle Sounders. The Black & Gold lost by five goals to TFC, given away points late several times and bowed out of the USOC to FC Cincinnati.

More and more fans are becoming upset by the current trend, and it’s hard not to feel some of that creeping frustration as the team continues to show flashes of that winning flair we saw in Berhalter’s first two years, only to turn around and make the same mistakes we’ve seen for the last two.

Some speculate Berhalter’s seat may be, or should be getting hotter. That’s beyond the scope of my knowledge and of this column. All I know is that Crew SC have half a season to right the ship, fix the mistakes, and make a playoff run. Is that doable? Does this team have the quality to match their effort? Will the bring in players who do? Current trends point to no, but time will tell. What happens will likely define the rest of Berhalter’s tenure, and therefore the next few years of Crew SC’s future.