At his introductory press conference, head coach Caleb Porter explained the style of play of his Columbus Crew SC team.
“My preferred way is to play what I call dominant football, which means you’re in the front half, you have control of the ball, you counter-press and lock teams in and you get on top of teams,” he said. “That’s what we’ll do at home.”
Black & Gold fans got their first glimpse of that style of play, which was not all that different from what previous head coach Gregg Berhalter wanted to do, in last Saturday’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls. Although the game wasn’t perfect and the result — a 1-1 draw — was not ideal, the Crew were in control of the game in the front half for most of the contest.
But this week, Columbus goes on the road. If you noticed, Porter said in that first press conference “that’s what we’ll do at home,” meaning he has a different plan for his team away from MAPFRE Stadium.
“We’ll still play. We’ll still be a passing team,” Porter said of how the Crew will approach the first road game of the year this week. “But I would say there’s more adjustment on the road, less adjustment at home. There will still be adjustments at home in terms of how we’re looking to attack, but I think you’re going to see a team at home that’s going to dictate the game with the ball and create chances and look to score goals. You’ve got to entertain your fans. On the road, it’s about getting a result and getting points. But we won’t lose sight of our strengths.”
Traditionally Major League Soccer teams struggle to win on the road. Since 2013, no team in the league has won more than eight games away from their home stadium. Over that stretch, the most road games the Black & Gold have won in a season was six. Whether it’s the extensive travel, the atmospheres at many stadiums or just a comfort level of sleeping your own bed, the home team has a distinct advantage over the visitors each week.
In the past, Porter has been rather successful on the road in MLS play. In his five seasons in charge of the Portland Timbers, Porter’s team won seven road games twice. The head coach has a combined for a 21-48-26 record away from home, which led to 89 points for Portland.
What made the Timbers so successful under Porter when they left Providence Park?
“I think because we could adjust at times. We weren’t predictable,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Obviously at home, most teams in this league want to be on the front foot and want to attack, they want to energize, they want to score goals. I think on the road, you can use that against teams a little bit because teams will open up more. If you craft a plan the right way and if you’re adjustable, you can do some different things and you can get the opponent at home to be vulnerable sometimes because they want to score and there’s a tendency to want to play.”
For Porter, he believes getting a good start on the road is key to having a successful season away from home. Earning that early win builds the confidence that a team can get results on the road and leads to more points as the year goes on.
The Crew’s first chance to get that initial road win comes at Gillette Stadium against the New England Revolution. After a 1-1 draw on the road against FC Dallas last week, Saturday will mark the Revolution’s home opener, meaning there will be a lot of excitement in the stadium.
“They’ll come out flying, home opener, looking to press us,” Porter said of New England. “I think in any road game, for sure, there’s going to be periods where you’re under it and certainly the start of the game in a road game, the home team is looking to be on the front foot and play aggressive.”
The key for Columbus will be dealing with the early portion of the match, something the Black & Gold did not do well a week ago, conceding a goal just six minutes in. Porter expects his team will manage the game better in Week 2.
Although he wouldn’t go into specifics, Porter has a plan for how his team will handle the pressure that New England brings and how the group will deal with being away from MAPFRE Stadium for the first time in 2019. While the Crew won’t change entirely, there will be tactical tweaks meant to get the necessary result to come back to Columbus with points.
“We won’t just sit and counter, that won’t be the plan,” Porter said. “My teams can keep the ball. So we use that to rest on the ball, we could use that to manage the game and the tempo of the game and to take some pressure off of our defending. That was kind of our formula. We’d be organized defensively, we would rest on the ball, manage the game with the ball, which would take some pressure off our defending but also we would play in transition, we could press at times if we needed to. So we could do a little bit of everything on the road and I think on the road, that’s where more than ever you have to look at how do you game plan to win.”