It hasn’t been an easy recent stretch for Columbus Crew SC.
Over the last three matches, the Black & Gold have 55 shots to their opponents’ 15. Columbus is 0-3 over that stretch, scoring just two goals — which all came in the first game against the Vancouver Whitecaps — and allowing four.
“We don’t want to overreact, but I think the important message is, we’re not happy. We’re not happy with these results. We can’t be,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week. “When we look at these last three games, to come out with three losses is, to me, unacceptable because of how we played and the chances we created and the chances that we didn’t concede.”
Following the 2-1 loss to the Whitecaps at home, Crew SC went on the road and fell to the Chicago Fire 1-0 due largely to a mistaken back pass that the home side capitalized on. The Black & Gold created chances, but just could not finish.
Last week, on the verge of losing three consecutive matches for the first time since 2014, Columbus gave up a goal less than a minute into the road match against D.C. United. Despite having 89 minutes to level the contest, 39 of which was played with a man advantage after a red card to United’s Paul Arriola, Crew SC still couldn’t find the net, again falling 1-0.
“We weren’t necessarily ready to play right away,” defender Josh Williams said of the most recent defeat. “I think we got sucker punched. And then it was a matter of finding the game and there were a bunch of different factors that went into play.”
Despite this being only the second time in Berhalter’s tenure that Crew SC has lost three in a row, the mood around the team has not changed.
After going unbeaten (3-0-1) through the first four matches, the Black & Gold still sit in a three-way tie for third place in the Eastern Conference with 10 points on the young season.
But, like all Major League Soccer teams, this Columbus group has gone through this before. Each season, there have been stretches where the team has underperformed, yet finds its form and gets back on track.
“You go four unbeaten to start the year, you’re riding a wave that you want to continue to ride for a little while,” Williams said. “But throughout the season, there’s ups and downs; it’s a long year. We’ve all been around here a long time. We understand there’s ups and downs in a season.”
In fact, Williams believes this three-game losing streak, while undesirable and unacceptable, could be a positive for his team.
“Maybe we needed to be humbled,” he continued. “Maybe this is a good thing for us. So now we know this is possible that we can lose three in a row, games that we feel like we should have won.”
One thing that is certain is there is no lack of confidence in the locker room. This team continues to believe in the way they play and in their philosophies. No, the results have not been good enough after the hot start, but things will turn around.
So how does that turnaround begin?
Captain Wil Trapp believes more intense training has to be the focus.
“I think, if anything, we need to compete more in training,” he said on Tuesday. “And I don’t know if you guys could hear it today in training, but the level was very high.”
While Trapp wouldn’t say the level in practice dropped off when things were going well, he did admit that, as humans, you tend to relax and get comfortable and there must be a balance between knowing your spot is secure, while also feeling pressure from the guy behind you to keep you performing.
“Training is where guys push for spots and those competition battles make us better on Saturday,” he continued, “and that’s where we need to focus on.”
Berhalter also agreed these three losses could be a bit of a wake up call.
If losing at home and then dropping a game where you outshoot your opponent by 16 didn’t do it, being unable to create good goal-scoring opportunities against a 10-man D.C. side should.
“What I think is you can’t take anything for granted in this league,” he said of the lesson from the United loss. “You can’t take an opponent for granted, you can’t take a game for granted, you can’t take a red card for the other team, going down, you can’t take anything for granted. Nothing. So you have to be prepared. And these games are battles and you need to be ready to compete for 90 minutes.”
At this point, the losses are in the books. There’s nothing Crew SC coaches or players can do to change those results.
What the team can do is make sure they learn from the mistakes of the last three weeks and use that to ensure that these don’t happen again.
“I think this particular case, we’re definitely not happy with the results, but we feel like the performances haven’t been that bad,” Berhalter said. “And the guys are more hungry to do better than a loss of confidence. There’s more of a hunger to do better.”
Oh, and a win on Saturday at home against the New England Revolution might help things as well.