If there’s one thing consistent about Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter, it’s that he preaches one game at a time. No matter how often reporters ask him about a run of results, good or bad, he’s not interested in talking about it.
But Berhalter has been involved with the game of soccer long enough to realize that there are trends that develop in a team that, after enough of a sample size, can be analyzed.
This doesn’t necessarily have to do with results, such as Crew SC beginning 2018 without losing in its first four games or the recent two-match slide, but aspects of a team that you have to look a little closer to see.
“I think we have a decent trend line from six games,” Berhalter said this week. “What I would say is we’ve been defending well, not giving up a lot of chances. That’s across the board in all games. And I think our goal creation is down a little bit. I think last game is an anomaly. Look across the board this season, it hasn’t been as productive. But in the first four games, we finished our chance really well.”
That seems to be the opposite for a Black & Gold team that, in the previous four years under Berhalter, struggled defensively.
So why is it that the team has been better defensively, at least in the eyes of the head coach?
“I think it’s continuity, personnel,” Berhalter said. “You look at Lalas (Abubakar), Johnny (Mensah) and Josh (Williams), they’re all very good at winning balls. So now your ball winning is up.
“When you look at Artur, Wil (Trapp)’s increased his tackle percentage and balls won, Milton (Valenzuela) adds another dimension defensively, Pedro (Santos) and Crisitan (Martinez) are both very good defensively for their positions in this league, Gyasi (Zardes) is a tireless worker.
“So I think when you add all those pieces together, it improves our group defensively.”
Conversely, Berhalter has not been entirely pleased with the amount of chances created. Putting the 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire last Saturday aside, a game where Berhalter believed his team created enough to score multiple goals, the numbers show the chances in total are down some from pervious years.
Columbus did lose Justin Meram and Ola Kamara in the offseason, two guys who not only accounted for a total of 31 goals last season, but were both a big part of the team’s ability to create opportunities.
But Berhalter doesn’t believe their loss has made that much of an impact in this department.
“I think you could look at game state in some situations,” he said for a reason for this slight decline, “but overall I think we’ve been playing well. We’ve been playing against some tough opponents and we want to continue to move the ball around to create goal scoring opportunities.”
Just for comparison, Crew SC sit on a 3-2-1 record in this young season, the same record the club had through six games in Berhalter’s first year in charge, 2014, and last season, and better than either 2015 (2-2-2) or 2016 (1-3-2).
The Black & Gold have nine goals for and six against so far in 2018. The only season with more goals scored (11) at this point in the year was 2014 and the only season with fewer conceded (5) was 2015.
While the raw numbers mean something — and they show a similar start to the year as the head coach’s first four seasons — Berhalter prefers to evaluate the performances over these games and the trends he sees. From there he decides how the team is playing and what changes could be made.
Although Berhalter is mostly pleased with Columbus through these first six games, he has already shown he is not afraid to make alterations, and more could be on the way. And that doesn’t just mean to the starting lineup.
“I don’t think there’s been any false context. You guys have known from the beginning that we’ve wanted to add a piece,” Berhalter told reporters this week. “So that hasn’t changed. Even if we’re happy with our attacking players, what they’ve been doing, but we definitely want to add a piece. It gives us more versatility, it gives us potentially another attacking dimension. So we definitely want to add someone.”