There have been murmurs within some Columbus Crew SC fan circles that head coach Caleb Porter’s job should be in jeopardy after the team’s disappointing first half of 2019. Let’s discuss this topic rationally and objectively, shall we?
In any level of competitive athletics, logically, does it make sense to even consider firing a head coach who has won titles at two different levels, after a mere 17 games in charge? No matter how frustrating or disappointing a start to the season has been, to even broach this topic of conversation is bonkers. When considering the tumultuous transition of ownership, hiring a new team president and a rash of injuries, even mentioning that Porter could possibly be removed is asinine.
Here is why.
Transitioning from the old to the new
Players and system fit of those players matter. For a coach to be successful, he must be able to establish his tactics and implement the proper pieces of the scheme’s puzzle. No matter how skilled or talented a player may be, system fit will decide just how successful or lackluster a player is ultimately. As similar as former coach Gregg Berhalter and Porter’s systems are, they are also quite different in certain areas. Yes, they both tend to line up in a 4-2-3-1 system, but the way the players operate within the respective system is contrasting.
Berhalter had a system that was almost scripted as to where players should move, given circumstances that arise throughout a match. Berhalter was extremely calculated in every aspect, from pregame, through the duration of a match, to postgame activities. He was meticulous in all areas. He made it imperative that the team’s attack start from the back and build out accordingly.
Porter, on the other hand, wants his players to play with more freedom and creativity. The fullbacks are integral in the offensive build-up for both managers but in different ways. Porter wants his outside backs to bomb up and down the flank to draw defenders away from the 18-yard box and to send in crosses as they deem fit. Berhalter use of the wide-backs was more deliberate and preconceived. It is evident that a vast array of this Crew roster has struggled to apply the subtle differences, which is to be expected after a long-tenured coach moves on and the majority of the core players are still on the roster.
Quite frankly, the roster Porter inherited is mediocre as it pertains to today’s Major League Soccer standards. The bar has been raised; the ante has been upped in this league. The title contending window for this core collection of players has closed. Anyone not able to see that is simply wearing black and gold colored glasses, not wanting to see the reality.
The roster coming into the 2019 season was uninspiring to any neutral party. When a team’s most dangerous attacking player is 34 years old with a lot of miles on the tires, that doesn’t bode well for a title run. When the squad’s second-highest paid attacker has scored exactly one goal in two seasons, the offense is in trouble. Having a projected starting winger who has been a shell of himself in the previous two seasons, the expected goals stat is concerning. Is it really that perplexing that Columbus can’t score with any regularity? Heck, the team didn’t last year under Berhalter.
With an already razor-thin roster, factor in the international call-ups (which yes, most teams deals with), losing your Goalkeeper of the Year mid-season and injuries to two critical cogs to a Porter system, Milton Valenzuela and Federico Higuain, what can people really expect from this team? Valenzuela was injured the first week of training camp and will not see the field for a single minute in 2019. The Crew were playing their fourth and fifth string outside backs at various points this season. As if the injury to Valenzuela wasn’t frustrating enough, Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful both missed time as well. Least we not forget, vice captain and offensive motor, Federico Higuain, was lost before the mid-season mark.
Another rumor being discussed is that Porter has “lost the locker room.” I find that to be extremely unlikely. The players have worked hard, they are showing their frustration at missed opportunities. However, what is being perceived as potentially “losing the locker room” is more likely the shroud of frustration basking over the club dropping points and not capitalizing on goal-scoring opportunities. If Porter has “lost this locker room” in the grand scheme of things, the roster you see today will be drastically different one year from now. Any players he conceivably “lost” will likely be out anyhow as he and Bezbatchenko modify the roster.
Mind you, this isn’t a Caleb Porter apology piece. I have scratched my head at several of the strategic moves and substitution patterns. Regardless, Porter deserves time to put his stamp on this squad. Under Porter, the Crew has made just two player acquisitions. One of those acquisitions is inexplicably a short-term oriented move, as David Accam will be leaving central Ohio after this season. That means, for the long-haul, all we have seen is one potential long-term transaction, and that is for David Guzman at central midfield.
The Crew has set themselves up remarkably well for summer and postseason player acquisitions. Bezbatchenko is well positioned to make moves, having acquired a boatload of Targeted and General Allocation Money. Being mindful, that any transactions completed should be with a long-term goal in mind. No worthwhile coach or team executive would dare “throw in the towel” on any season but given the uncertainty with this franchise and little-to-no runway time prior to the year, 2019 should be viewed as a celebration of Save The Crew. Any successes that come about on the field in 2019 should be considered a bonus.
How quickly we go from celebrating the Crew being saved and just being happy that the Black & Gold remain in Columbus, to constant quibbling about the inevitable ups and downs of transitioning to an MLS Cup champion coach. Remember, just a year ago, the widespread doubt of the Crew even being in Columbus beyond 2018? The afterglow and bliss of Saved The Crew has dissipated to maligning each and every move made or not made by Porter and his staff.
Fans are passionate and the lifeblood of any sports club. They are “fanatic,” hence the term. However, it is critical that these very same passionate and boisterous fans understand the big picture, grasp the context of the circumstances and are patient. Allow the process to unravel. Fans and players are often one in the same in how they assess things on a game to game basis. Generally, players are very today, right now oriented. They focus almost exclusively on the result and outcome of the specific match at hand. Coaches are looking at things in 3-D, having to plan each and every action with the immediate, intermediate and long-term future in mind.
I implore Crew fans to be patient and cognizant of the big picture the Black & Gold have in mind with this club. The old adage “patience is a virtue” has been part of our lexicon for centuries. It rings true just as remarkably today, as it did when it originated. Patience is absolutely needed during a team rebuild, let alone during an ownership take over. This is an absolute work in progress. Reports indicate that Porter signed a five-year deal with Columbus. In turn, Porter is not going anywhere anytime soon, so I encourage you to jump on-board the bandwagon and support the coach and his players.
Be patient, folks! Massive things are around the corner for this club and Porter will be at the helm, so support the man and his team.