When Caleb Porter took over as head coach of Columbus Crew SC at the beginning of the 2019 season, fans knew that there would be a slight change. Despite their similarities in playing style, Porter was not Gregg Berhalter, who oversaw the club for five years and left to become the United States Men’s National Team head coach in December. What fans didn’t know was that there would be consequences with the changes.
Columbus started the season flying high with a 4-1-1 record, contesting for first place in the Eastern Conference. The only early blemish came on the road when the Black & Gold was missing multiple key players to national team call-ups. Little did the team or fans know that it was a sign of things to come.
As the season went on, the worse possible thing happened and that was the infamous injury bug. Once again, the Crew was playing without the team’s key starters and it turned what could have been a three- or four-game slide into the current rough patch —the Black & Gold are now losers in seven of their last eight contests.
With Columbus down almost half of the team’s original starting lineup, there seems to be a small identity crisis.
“I think we’re still trying to find our identity with outside backs being injured,” said Porter after their 1-0 loss to Minnesota United over the weekend. “We’re not playing the type of outside backs that we normally play with, with guys looking to get forward and help join the attack.”
The loss to United was not only the team’s seventh since April 13 but also the fifth time in that stretch the Crew has been shutout. With the loss of Milton Valenzuela (knee) for the entire season and Harrison Afful who is still recovering after a broken jaw, the team has had to rely on Hector Jimenez and Josh Williams, who hasn’t played an outside back role in a few years.
Columbus was also once again without Zack Steffen, this time due to a concussion he suffered late in the week. While the goalkeeper would do nothing to help the team score goals, he has been instrumental in organizing the backline and seems to always come up with a big save or two.
Winger Pedro Santos was also out against Minnesota, and new additions David Accam and David Guzman were each in the lineup after arriving less than two weeks prior.
Needless to say, the group that Porter is running with now, is still trying to find their rhythm and find it fast.
“It wasn’t our typical passing game, a little bit more unforced errors but I think a big part of that is just us in the back half finding our identity without a couple key pieces in terms of how we play,” Porter continued. “We need to improve no doubt about it and we are willing to.”
But not only is the team lacking an identity, but the group as a whole is still waiting to find that killer instinct on both sides of the ball.
“Our killer instinct to kill games and defend is good,” Porter said. “We just need to keep working on being ruthless.”
Porter mentioned that not only does his team need to find that, but also needs “precision and decision making in transition.”
It’s time for the Black & Gold to get creative. As mentioned, they’re rolling with a group that normally won’t see much playing time. The ability to use Accam and Robinho is a gift, but the team needs to execute it in the right way and too often against United the pass was off, or late.
The speedy wingers can definitely help to get the creativity needed, but the focus seems to be playing from the back and building up. That’s why Columbus is to predictive when that happens mid-game. They are not recognizing opportunities and sometimes are too rushed when they do have the ball. As seen in the Minnesota game, they were able to play outside, but at times there was a heavy pass, or players were simply getting beat off the ball.
If Columbus wants to get that “killer instinct” and find its “identity,” it starts with keeping control and being able to play the wingers at the right time in order to get the attacking phase of play going.
Oh, and getting healthy wouldn’t hurt either.