It’s been a rough start to 2017 for Columbus Crew SC. And no, I’m not talking about results — although some of those have been too. The team’s 22 point this season is the best through 16 games under head coach Gregg Berhalter.
What I am referring to is the schedule. Not only have Crew SC taken on some of Major League Soccer’s top teams — faced each of the clubs in front of them in the Eastern Conference at least once and three of the playoff teams in the West — but the Black & Gold have also already had two multiple game weeks through the league’s first three months.
That’s why it was nice for the Columbus players to get a bye this weekend which allowed the players four days off earlier in the week.
“Wonderful,” club captain Wil Trapp said of the short break. “I think everyone just needed a little bit of time away just to recuperate, recharge.”
Over this time, many of the players were able to take a step back from the game a bit and spend time with family or do things that they usually can’t under the normal rigors of a season. But coming off another disappointing defeat, this time to the Colorado Rapids after leading with 10 minutes to play, it was hard for these players to put that loss from their minds.
“I think it probably made their vacation a little bit worse, which is normal,” Berhalter said of the defeat. “I watched the game four times in between now and then. You watch it and you’re thinking the outcome is different based on what’s happening in the game. You’re looking at these chances, you’re looking at these 5 vs. 3 breaks that we’re not scoring and it’s disappointing.”
This time, with two weeks off in league play, it was about processing the match the right way during the time away and coming back stronger.
“It was good to get away, but it’s definitely not something we want to forget,” defender Josh Williams said. “Coming off a good win against Seattle... It’s just a matter of playing out the 90-plus minutes. I thought we played well for 80 minutes, we played well enough to get the win, and a couple lapses on the backline and not finishing chances, it’s a typical MLS game.”
The players returned to training on Thursday, recharged and refocused and it showed on the practice field.
“Better than expected,” Berhalter said of the first day back. “I thought they were going to be a little bit rusty, but they did a good job today. A good intensity, good level.”
“I think it’s just being fresh,” he said after training Thursday. “Any time you’re away for four days, you want to get back. It’s the perfect amount of time. So I think everyone was eager to get back on the training field.”
So what’s next for Crew SC? It’s time for improvement.
Although the club is statistically doing better than it has in the previous three seasons, none of the players or staff are happy with the Black & Gold’s sub .500 record or being in fifth place in the East.
With another week off before the next MLS game — broken up by Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against FC Cincinnati — the focus for Columbus is on fixing issues from the first half of the season.
“We have a detailed training plan for these next weeks,” Berhalter said, “almost like a mini-preseason in terms of identifying things that we need to work on in our game and we’re going to set out to improve them every day.”
After next week’s road match with Atlanta United, the Black & Gold will have officially reached the midpoint of 2017. Traditionally under Berhalter, Crew SC has been better in the second half of the season.
If that is to continue, improvement must start now in these training session for this recharged and refocused Columbus side.
“If we can improve them, we’ll be fine,” Berhalter said. “If we can’t improve them, we’re going to struggle.”
It’s as simple as that.