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Five mid-season conclusions about Crew SC

As the Black & Gold complete the first half of the regular season, here are some early thoughts.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer’s 2018 regular season reached its midpoint for Columbus Crew SC last week after the Black & Gold were defeated 2-0 by Atlanta United at MAPFRE Stadium in the team’s 17th match this year.

It has been a successful season for Crew SC so far as the team remained above the playoff line for the entire first half so far and sits on a 7-4-6 record, good enough for 27 points and third place in the Eastern Conference. Columbus looks poised for a steady run to postseason one more time under head coach Gregg Berhalter’s guidance.

It’s obviously very hard to predict how the season is going to end for the Black & Gold, but with half of the team’s regular season in the books, it’s possible to make some conclusions about Crew SC’s 2018 year.

Here are five of them:

Zack Steffen is the real deal

This one is not actually new, but if someone had questions about Zack Steffen’s skills between the posts, these might have been put to bed now. The 23-year-old shot stopper is arguably not only the best in his position in MLS but also the top option among American goalkeepers overall.

Steffen recently sustained a 525-minute shutout streak, not conceding any goals during the entire month of May, the longest in club’s history and eighth in MLS all-time. The accomplishment made of him the league’s most recent player of the month.

The backline is solid

For the first time in a few years, Crew SC has found some defensive stability. After 17 matches, the team ranks second in goals conceded per game (0.94) and third in goals conceded (16) in the entire league. Also, obviously a huge part of the Steffen’s shutout streak should be credited to the Black & Gold defenders.

Perhaps the most promising fact connected to the defense’s good form is that the team’s depth at central defense is proving to be effective, as all of Jonathan Mensah, Lalas Abubakar, Josh Williams, Alex Crognale and Gaston Sauro — Crognale and Sauro to a more minor extent — have answered positively when they were on the field.

Young talent paying dividends

The Black & Gold had an influx of young talent in 2018 and Berhalter has managed to get the most of his unexperienced players for most of the time. Some of them, such as defenders Lalas Abubakar (23) and Milton Valenzuela (19), became full-time starters and key pieces for the team.

Others like defender Alex Crognale (23) and midfielders Eduardo Sosa (21), Cristian Martinez (21) and Luis Argudo (22) have all been able to provide the team some offensive power either coming off the bench or starting games. And don’t forget Steffen (23) and Artur (22), who both look older than they actually are.

Wingers need to produce more

If there’s one area of Crew SC’s game that could certainly improve, it’s the performance of the team’s wingers. After a 2017 season when Justin Meram contributed with 14 goals and eight assists, Berhalter is struggling to squeeze decent statistics, goals especially, from his wingers.

Martinez, Niko Hansen, Mike Grella and Pedro Santos, who have been sharing the minutes at both wings, combine for just two goals and six assists so far while Federico Higuain alone has four goals and seven assists. The team is said to be looking to add some more options here, so this issue could be addressed soon.

Crew SC won the Zardes-Kamara trade

When the Crew sent Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy in the trade that brought Gyasi Zardes to Columbus, there was big concern if the U.S. international forward would be able to keep up with the form of the Norwegian, who scored 19 goals in 2017.

With half of the season gone, it looks reasonable to say that the Black & Gold got the better side of the deal. On top of acquiring Zardes, who already scored 10 goals this season against Kamara’s six, they also received $400,000 in allocation money with the possibility of cashing another $100,000 if the Norwegian scores another six goals in LA.