Frustration is mounting for those that watch Columbus Crew SC every week. Despite a positive 4-2-1 start to the season and the team sitting near the top of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, Black & Gold fans are seeing a lot of similarities to last year’s team offensively, and that means the ball isn’t finding the back of the net with regularity.
In 2018, the Crew made the playoffs as the fifth seed in the East but scored just 43 goals in 34 games. That was by far the lowest statistical offensive production of any team taking part in the postseason and was tied for second-worst in MLS. It was a change from then-head Gregg Berhalter’s three other playoff teams, who each scored at least 52 goals.
New head coach Caleb Porter is aware that the 2018 Crew struggled to score goals and the roster is nearly the same. While he’s working to improve Columbus’ attacking play, the Black & Gold have scored just seven times in seven games this year and were shutout for the second time in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact.
Porter wants to see his team score more goals but one thing he is not doing is getting frustrated. Porter knows that won’t be productive for a head coach.
“No, no. You can’t get frustrated,” he said this week. “If I’m getting frustrated in this job, then I probably can’t do the job.
“I’m not frustrated by it. I can’t be frustrated, neither can (the players). And the last thing we can do is get tense about it.”
Instead, Porter is taking a more measured approach. The head coach understands the game of soccer is not typically high scoring. Games are often won 1-0 or 2-1, one-goal margins. As he and multiple Black & Gold players have made clear, it’s hard to score goals in soccer and the defensive play in MLS has improved, even over the last few years.
He also likes what he sees from his team offensively, even if the play hasn’t translated to goals.
Each Sunday this year, the head coach watched the previous day’s game, looking at it through his coach’s eye in preparation for reviewing film with his team the next day. At times it hasn’t been pretty offensively, but he continues to see improvement. Despite being shutout at Montreal over the weekend, Porter walked away pleased with the performance because of the number of chances the Crew created.
“In the attack, I thought we executed extremely well until we gave up the goal,” he said. “Up until the goal, I thought we were in control and I counted 15 passages of play that either led to a clear chance or led to a position where we should’ve created a clear chance. So that shows purpose with the possession and I don’t think we’ve had a game, actually, where we created that many good looks and good positions with our possession.”
This is not to say that Porter was pleased to see his team fail to score again or lose the game. He wants to see the ball in the back of the net with more regularity but also sees positive signs in that department.
“The most difficult thing to do is actually create the chance and getting in that position,” Porter continued. “So we’re missing some crosses. And we’re missing some moments where the runs aren’t right and the decisions of where to cross aren’t right. And then the couple just are the finish. Obviously Gyasi (Zardes’), he got a piece of it but — I don’t know, I’m not a physics guy but I don’t know how that doesn’t go in. And Robinho’s breakaway was a very good chance, where even if it just slides it to Gyasi, it’s a tap-in goal. The goalkeeper makes a good save. Pedro (Santos) got a good look where if he bends it a bit more like he usually does, it’s probably in the side netting. There’s the Pipa (Federico Higuain) chance obviously and there were a number where Hector (Jimenez) got in three or four times where, again, if the run is right and the ball is right, it’s a goal. So there are all things I see as I dissect the game and look for being objective.”
With Saturday’s game being the best Porter’s seen in terms of his team’s chance creation, the group now has to figure out how to play that way on a consistent basis and then finish more of the chances when they are created. That’s what the Black & Gold spend a large portion of Tuesday through Friday working on, attempting to find goals on the weekend.
Eventually, that has to start translating to results on the field.
“We can talk about it all we want and how we’re creating it and this detail, that detail, but if we’re not doing it then it’s irrelevant,” Columbus captain Wil Trapp admitted to Massive Report. “I think the good thing is Caleb’s mentality and focus toward it is excellent. I think he’s looking at it in such a positive framed way that it’s giving confidence to everyone on the team that it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when not if.”
Porter has been in the coaching profession for a long time. His players have been playing soccer for some time as well. They have all reached the MLS level not just because of their skill but because they know how to navigate difficult situations and come out on the other end better.
Frustration is fine for fans but it does the team no good in terms of moving toward a better result. While the goals haven’t come in numbers yet, the Crew have to stay the course and trust the process with the belief, based on what they’ve seen on film, that they will start to score with regularity.
“I’ve learned in this game sometimes it’s cruel when you play well, but if you stick with playing well, then eventually it will turn. And that’s what we have to do,” Porter said. “We can’t lose sight of the good stuff, obviously. It’s easy to lose sight of the positive performance, but you know, we have to keep playing the way we played. I believe, obviously, if we do that, then we’ll score goals and I think eventually we’re going to have a game where the floodgates open up. We have to stay confident on that and keep believing in what we’re doing because there’s a lot of good stuff in this game even though we lost the game.