It’s no secret Columbus Crew SC has struggled on offense lately. After a hot start to the Major League Soccer season offensively, the Black & Gold’s scoring has cooled off tremendously.
Crew SC has scored 24 goals through 30 match. That number ties for fifth-worst in MLS. Since the middle of May, Columbus has scored just seven goals in eight matches, and that includes a 3-3 draw with Toronto FC where the team had to frantically fight back from 3-0 down in the second half.
In order to help the offense, the Black & Gold made a move on Wednesday, trading for D.C. United forward Patrick Mullins. But the issue hasn’t been up top for Crew SC — strike Gyasi Zardes has 10 goals, which is tied for second-best in the league — but rather everyone else. While the biggest drop off from last season has been the scoring output from the wingers — just two goals from the position so far in 2018 — head coach Gregg Berhalter saw an opportunity to address another area of need with the Mullins trade.
“I think attacking depth is always important,” Berhalter said. “Knowing that you can put someone on the field that can score goals. He (Mullins) has a proven track record of scoring.”
While Zardes, and Ola Kamara before him, have been productive over the last three seasons for the Black & Gold, the scoring from forwards off the bench has been lacking. Since Adam Jahn joined Columbus in late July of 2016, he has six goals in 41 appearances. Five of those goals came in the second half of 2016, one came last year and none have been scored so far this season.
So, Mullins was acquired to be that backup striker and provide goals off the bench? According to Berhalter, that is yet to be decided.
“The role’s going to be determined by his performance,” Berhalter said. “He’ll get an opportunity.
“The short-term expectations are he’s a guy that gives us attacking depth. We see him immediately giving Adam competition to be the second striker. Again, that role won’t be fixed though. It’s going to depend on performance.”
For his career, Mullins has 23 MLS goals in 96 appearances, but only 53 of those have been starts. The forward has proven he can come off the bench and make an impact, so maybe that will be the role he takes.
As far as Mullins’ fit with Crew SC, this move seems to make sense.
“I think my ability in front of goal,” Mullins said of his biggest strength as a player. “I think it’s a forward’s instinct for knowing the right area to get into, but also when to create space for other guys on the team.”
Given that Columbus likes to build out of the back and create chances for the forward inside the penalty box — where all of the team’s goals have been scored this year — a player like Mullins makes sense. That playing style is a reason that Mullins was excited when he learned he would be joining the Black & Gold.
“I’ve always admired from afar,” he said of Crew SC. “Definitely the players, but also the way we play here. It was a place I was always excited to think about how I might fit into that and now I’m just ready to get to work and see what I can make of it.”
Like any player, Mullins wants to play. Part of the reason things didn’t work out in D.C. was he made just 10 appearance so far this season, and only two starts, and became expendable with the recent addition of Wayne Rooney. But Mullins also understands each player plays a role and that the team is bigger than any individual.
“Realize that (Gyasi’s) doing a great job here and that that’s great because I want to win games first and foremost,” he said. “But I think part of being a good teammate is pushing each other and especially as forwards. That’s working with each other to help build confidence, build on each other’s qualities, but also to push. So that’s something that I think is a fun part of the game and a way to be a good teammate.”
If Mullins can come in and push Zardes to be better than he’s already been and help Crew SC generate more goals from the backup forward position, this trade will be a win. That is what Berhalter sees out of his new puzzle piece.
“It was very clear with the expectation that he’s coming in here to compete to be on the field,” he said. “We know it will take time for him to adapt to our system and learn the way we do things, but we’re confident that he’s going to adapt well and give us that scoring boost that the club needs right now.”