“I think there have been some guys really licking their chops, just ready to step in and get a game,” Caleb Porter said this week.
The Columbus Crew SC head coach’s anticipatory words come as a minor knee injury will sideline goalkeeper Zack Steffen, coupled with international team call-ups to starters Gyasi Zardes, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram and Waylon Francis will create great opportunities for some Crew players to make a positive impression this weekend as the Black & Gold travel east to play the Philadelphia Union this Saturday.
The new starting goalkeeper this weekend will provide an important glimpse into the future for Columbus as Steffen will leave for Manchester City this summer. Consistency in movement and continuing recent dominance in the back for the Crew will help ensure the learning curve for either Joe Bendik or Jon Kempin in goal will be short. And either Bendik or Kempin will show Crew fans whether to expect more of a sweeper-keeper or a more traditional goalie to succeed Steffen later this season. Being comfortable — or uncomfortable — on the ball around goal will impact tactical movement amongst the backline for the Crew against the top teams in Major League Soccer.
In the short term, blanking competition has helped Columbus earn critical points early in the season. Look no further than the past two shutout wins (one at home and one on the road). On this note, Porter was pleased that his defense held onto a 1-0 lead this past weekend for the Crew’s first home victory of 2019. The Black & Gold’s backline passed the test against FC Dallas by preventing the visitors from scoring an equalizer and earning a valuable point on the road.
“We were men, we made plays when it counted and I thought it was our best game,” Porter said.
In addition to earning clean sheets against opponents, the Crew’s manager revealed how he measures success regarding his defense.
“The number one thing I look for is not giving the opponent chances,” Porter said. “I believe we’re up there with the tops in the league in expected goals (against).”
Part of not giving opponents quality chances requires efficient ball movement in defense on short goal kicks and back passes. Any team that’s insistent on passing the ball around the back, as Columbus does with regularity, can easily gift wrap goals by not reacting quickly enough with an escape plan when the other team initiates a suffocating high press, which was common against Gregg Berhalter’s Crew and will be common against Caleb Porter’s team that organizes and passes in a similar fashion.
Of all the positions that will feature new starters for Columbus this weekend, the goalkeeper is the spot to watch with the closest eye because the long-term success of the Crew’s 2019 campaign will depend on how well the team replaces Zack Steffen in goal.