Consistency is usually good in sports. Not only do you want it in results, but also with your personnel.
In soccer, being able to turn to 11 or so guys and know that group can get the job done is important. It’s also something Columbus Crew SC has not had in quite a while.
Before Saturday’s match with Atlanta United, you would have to go back to June 27, 2015 to find the last time the Black & Gold fielded the same lineup in three consecutive matches.
Injuries, international team call ups and form have all played a part in a nearly a two-year gap between a steady and reliable starting 11 for Crew SC.
While head coach Gregg Berhalter discussed earlier this season about wanting to field a more consistent lineup, especially defensively, he sees the positives in the team’s ability to rotate its 19 different starters so far in 2017.
“I would say it shows that we have a number of guys that we trust to play,” he explained. “I think if you look at some successful teams, I don’t think you can predict their starting 11 every time because you have other guys that are pushing.
“That’s what you want. You want the selections to be difficult.”
Along with the lineups, consistency has not come on the field for Columbus. After beginning the season 3-1-1 and sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference, Crew SC is 5-9-0 over its last 14 matches including Saturday’s home loss to Atlanta and is only two points from falling below the playoff line.
Finding the right lineup is important, but only if it gets results. That 2015 stretch from June 13 to July 11, a duration of five games, produced two home wins, two draws and an away loss. The Black & Gold were not as productive over this recent three-match span.
“I think [consistency is] good. But then when you look at it, we lost two of those games,” Berhalter said. “Then you say, ‘Is that in fact our best lineup?’
“There’s one thing I think to have guys on the field consistently, but the other thing is you have to evaluate performances.”
What Berhalter and his staff are now trying to figure is how to strike a balance. They want to field a consistent lineup, but also need to get results. Over the recent run of matches, the starting 11 did not produce the desired outcomes, so is it time to make changes again?
With a quick turnaround — Columbus play again Tuesday night in Minnesota — Berhalter may not have much of a choice.
“We’ll evaluate that as it goes,” he said of the short week. “We’re taking stock at where everyone is and because of the short turnaround, you’re getting up-to-minute information and you’re making decisions a little bit later than normal.”
It’s likely that this group’s run comes to an end against Minnesota United on the Fourth of July. If not for poor form than in order to prevent too much fatigue from creeping in.
After this midweek match, the Black & Gold don’t play another Major League Soccer game until June 22 due to the Gold Cup break. The players and coaches do not want to go that long without taking the field with a bad taste in their mouths and, no matter the lineup, are looking for a result against United.
“We want to go there and have a good performance,” Berhalter said of Tuesday. “It’s a place where they’ve gotten some good results and they’ve gotten some not so good results. But we want to go and focus on our game and how we how we can break them down and hurt them.”