Having three matches scheduled in an eight-day period is not rare in Major League Soccer. Columbus Crew SC is ready to start the second of those stretches in just three weeks as the team is set to face D.C. United on Saturday (May 4), the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (May 8) and Los Angeles Football Club on Saturday (May 11). The last time the Black & Gold went through a similar scenario, just last week, the outcome was extremely frustrating as Columbus struggled with three losses, just one goal score and six conceded.
From this perspective, it’s good that the Crew will have an opportunity to bounce back so quickly. On the other hand, facing three teams which are all a part of the league’s top five probably doesn’t make it any easier.
“Obviously we have a tough game coming up and we have a tough two games after that,” head coach Caleb Porter said this week. “We’re facing three of the best teams in the league right now. It’s not like we can’t figure it out. I’ll tell you this though, plain and simple. 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.”
Like it or not, the schedule is set and the Crew will need to get the most of these next three matches. In order to do that, the team will need to better, or at least differently, than last week in several areas. Here are five of them:
This probably goes without saying, but the Crew’s offensive struggles are holding the team back. To win games, Porter said numerous times, you have to score goals and putting the ball in the back of the net just once in three games certainly didn’t help the Black & Gold in the last stretch.
It’s unclear if Porter could try some tactical or personnel changes during the next games, but regardless of the route the coach chooses to fix this critical problem, the team will need a very different outcome to succeed this time.
Regain its Defensive Success
Columbus’ defense was carrying the team at the start of the season as, despite its limited offensive production, the Black & Gold managed to remain among the elite of the Eastern Conference just a few weeks ago. That certainly wasn’t the case last week as the Crew conceded as many as six goals in just three matches – the team allowed just five in the previous seven games.
The case here seems to be more of minor adjustments than big personnel changes and considering the system was working not long ago, this is an area where we could see quick improvement, which would be particularly important considering the team’s next opponents count on world-class forwards like Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela to score their goals.
Figure Out a Rotation That Works
There’s no way around it. With three games in eight days, a team must rotate players. Last week, Porter decided to go all in with the two home games and used mostly first-choice lineups for both, but ultimately rested as many as four regular starters in Houston, sending a somewhat helpless team to face the Dynamo.
This time maybe it should be the case to try to give all three matches the same weight, taking just one or two starters at a time and sending, in theory, a fairly strong team on to the field in each of the three matches.
Get Some Confidence Back
Anytime things don’t go as planned, confidence takes a hit. It’s no different in soccer and the impact of a lack of confidence can be devastating to teams. After three setbacks, Crew players are inevitably low with their morale and that affects them one way or another.
Several things can be done on a daily basis by Porter and his coaching staff to help the team regain its confidence, but it’s ultimately what they do on the field that will determine how fast that happens, so acknowledging and celebrating even minor accomplishments could be a very good idea.
Take Better Care of the Ball
The Crew has been severely punished over the years anytime it didn’t take good care of the ball – remember the 2015 MLS Cup? Most recently, the Black & Gold conceded goals after turning the ball over twice in the last four games – Lalas Abubakar was dispossessed by Alberth Elis against the Dynamo and Josh Williams and Jonathan Mensah gifted the ball to Maxi Urruti against the Montreal Impact.
With the team in a bad run of form, you don’t want to make mistakes and defenders, especially, should try to play as simple as possible, at least until things get back on track. Handing goals to opponents won’t do any good and if the Crew can avoid it, that’s a good start already.
Which of these areas needs the most improvement?
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