It was a long time ago when Columbus Crew SC last lost four games in a row. It was a stretch of contests that extended from April 23 to May 14. The year was 2005.
Caleb Porter, now the Crew’s head coach, was an assistant at Indiana, months away from taking over his first program at Akron. Wil Trapp, now the team’s captain, was 12 years old and playing for the Black & Gold was still a child’s dream.
After this recent stretch for Columbus, where the Crew again dropped four straight matches — from April 13 to April 27 — Porter and Trapp are two of the men looked at to figure out what’s gone wrong after a 4-1-1 start to the 2019 Major League Soccer season.
“If anything, these results as of late maybe are exposing some things both on the field and off the field that we can work on,” Trapp said this week. “And I think there’s a lot of validity, I guess, hope in the fact that that’s happening. And truly we get to kind of bare ourselves down and understand who we are as a team, what we need to do better and how that’s going to help us moving forward into the next game.”
On Tuesday, the coaches and players returned to the team’s training facility following the 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo — the most disheartening of the four recent defeats — on Saturday night looking to get back to work. Porter sat down with his leadership council, a group of eight of the team’s more veteran players, to discuss how to progress. According to Porter, the “really, really good meeting” went for about an hour and a half and gave him a window into the past for the Crew and potential solutions to move forward with his team.
Following the meeting, the team took to the practice field, eager to put the last four games, three of which came in just over a week’s time, behind them and build toward getting better.
“Listen, there’s no way around it. It was a bad week in terms of results. But we didn’t all of a sudden become a bad team in a week,” Porter said.
“We had a good meeting today. We had a hard training session, which was important. When you have a week like we had last week, you’ve got to get back on the pitch and the best thing you can do is just to keep working and compete. That’s what we did today. I thought it was excellent, the attitude out of the players was great. And that’s what you want to see. The meeting was great. We were able to discuss some things.”
While Porter and his team are not pleased with the results of the last four games, the group will not lose sight of the positives of their play. In losses to the Montreal Impact, the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, the Crew felt they were the better team, creating chances and limiting the opponent enough to get results.
The loss to the Dynamo did not fall in the same category. With five new players in the starting lineup, the Crew gave up a goal less than three minutes into the match and never recovered. It was not a case of playing well enough to win while being unfortunate, something you could argue about the previous contests, but rather a poor performance on the road.
After the club’s first four-game losing streak in over a decade, the return home was a chance for each player, each staff member to look themselves in the mirror and ask what more they could do to return to winning ways.
“I think it’s something where every day we have to be coming to work, approaching it in a way that’s geared toward helping the next guy,” Trapp said. “And sometimes when you’ve been a team for a long time together, you maybe take that for granted at times. And I think that’s something where we just need to re-apply ourselves and understand that we are a good team, but we have to put in the work to become a good team and to show it every single day. And those habits start to take shape on the field.”
No team wants to go through an extended losing streak, or a losing streak of any kind. The Crew came into the season believing this is a group that could contend for a top spot in the Eastern Conference, vie for a Supporters’ Shield and make another run at the MLS Cup. The recent string of poor results has not changed those goals but has made the Black & Gold refocus and re-evaluate how this team can get to where it wants to go by the season’s end.
“It’s little stuff that I’m here to help sort, correct and some of it is transition, too, in terms of the way we want to play, the way that we want to do things culturally. A little bit, perhaps, personnel as well,” Porter said. “So those are all things that we’re looking at. I’m going to keep this bus moving and I’m going to keep working tirelessly to make sure that this club evolves. Then eventually we do what I was brought here to do.
“This bus is going to keep moving. I know where it’s going. And I’ve got the bus to where it needs to go before, and I’ll do it this time, too.”