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Crew SC must learn from what nearly cost the team against Toronto FC

The Black & Gold were not good enough for most of Saturday’s match.

Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Toronto FC did not go the way Columbus Crew SC planned. After going seven matches without suffering defeat and five games without conceding a goal, Crew SC found itself down 2-0 in the first half. That only got worse early in the second 45 minutes, when Sebastian Giovinco curled home a free kick to go up 3-0.

It looked like the wheels were falling off of what was a great start to the 2018 season that has seen the Black & Gold climb near the top of the Major League Soccer standings through the first third of the year.

“To me, I thought we got a little cocky,” veteran defender Josh Williams said after the match, “we got a little complacent. We were too eager. It was almost like we expected it to happen too easily.”

In the 62nd minute, already down by three, head coach Gregg Berhalter made three changes, bringing in defender Alex Crognale and midfielders Luis Argudo and Eduardo Sosa. He shifted formations from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-2-1 to get more offensive numbers forward and try to get something from the match.

“Duels won,” Berhalter said following the draw. “In the first half we won 37 percent of our duels. In the second half we won 67 percent. That says it all.”

It was apparent to anyone watching the game that Crew SC didn’t bring its A-game for the first 60 minutes of the contest. Despite apparently having their best pre-match practice on Friday, the Black & Gold came out flat and it cost the team.

“It was a combination of a lot of little things. But to me the urgency wasn’t there,” Berhalter said. “Offensively in the first half, playing way too slow, body shape wasn’t good enough, switching field wasn’t good enough, urgency wasn’t good enough. And then defensively, closing the middle was poor.”

A halftime talk addressed doing the little things, playing quicker and with speed. While it still took a little bit of time for Columbus to get rolling, the team finally did as Berhalter made the three second half changes and the shift in formation in order to get more pressure up the field out wide.

Just four minutes after those substitutes, Crew SC were on the board as Gyasi Zardes headed home a Federico Higuain corner. With that finish, the momentum began to swing the Black & Gold’s way.

“I guess it started with the first goal,” Williams said. “That changes everything. I think you kind of feel Toronto get a little tense and we begin to grow in confidence. Then once the second one happened, it was like a pack of wolves.”

In the 81st first minute, Crognale capitalized on a Michael Bradley mistake to pull the deficit to one and it was game on. Crew SC’s pressure continued to pile and it paid off just before the end of regulation when Zardes drew a penalty kick. Higuain converted from the spot and the game was tied.

While this one will go down as the greatest comeback in team history, it was also a teaching moment for this Crew SC group. It shows that the Black & Gold can’t just step on the field against a team lower in the standings and expect to get a result.

“To me, it was we weren’t doing the little things,” Berhalter said. “And when we don’t do the little things in this game, in this league, you’ll lose games. It’s the intensity and sticking to the discipline of how you play your positional roles. If we can do that, we will be fine. If we don’t do that, it will be difficult to keep coming back from three goals down.

“What I think is that the guys realize that the outcome of the game is a direct result of what you put into it. That’s the great thing about this game is it’s a learning experience. Because it’s very clear when you look at the two halves. It’s very clear when you look at how it started and how it ended. The speed is so much different, the urgency. The guys doing the little thing. The guys competing. To me, it was a great game to teach that, and I hope the lesson was learned.”

Saturday’s match was not as Crew SC expected, but the game went from looking like a disaster at MAPFRE Stadium to a historic night for the Black & Gold. While the team enjoyed itself after the comeback, celebrating with the Trillium Cup in front of the Nordecke and in the locker room, the group must learn from its mistakes so those do not repeat.

While there were plenty of celebrations following the biggest comeback in team history, the message is clear from the Black & Gold. The performance Saturday is below the standard this team has set and cannot continue if the group wants to achieve what it set out to do in 2018.

“I’m still disappointed,” Williams said. “Coming off five shutouts in a row, they bang three in a row on us. It’s not a loss. I’m not going to go home and beat my head against the door, but at the same time, I thought we left some points on the table.”