Another day, another loss for Columbus Crew SC. This is beginning to become redundant.
The Black & Gold played hosts to struggling Western Conference opponent Sporting Kansas City, only (by the narrowest of margins) to let three points slip through their fingers after a 1-0 loss at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday.
The loss marked Columbus’ fifth game decided by only one goal (not counting the U.S. Open Cup loss to Atlanta United). While 17 games remain on the team’s schedule in Major League Soccer play, the current trend tells us that we will know the Crew’s fate well beforehand. This is despite the fact that they are only a mere two points out of the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
However, Columbus has just two games remaining against teams with fewer points, and they are both against FC Cincinnati
Due to international play, the Black & Gold could be without starters Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes for another three games, assuming the U.S. Men’s National Team makes the final of the Gold Cup. If they exit the tournament in the Round of 16, a return after the next game or two is possible. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen is no longer with the team, as he is finishing the Gold Cup before a transfer to English Premier League side Manchester City and then going on loan. Defender Jonathan Mensah is with the Ghanian National Team, participating in the Africa Cup of Nations until July 5 at the earliest. If Ghana makes the final, Jonathan would miss the next seven games in MLS play.
It’s possible, and ever-so likely, that by the time these players return to the starting lineup, there could be a bigger hole that the Crew will need to dig out of to have any hope to make a playoff run.
In the meantime, where exactly does that leave head coach Caleb Porter? He’s already been forced to make changes to the team sheet to make up for the current international absences. The injury list is slowly beginning to look better, but there are two important starters in Federico Higuain and Milton Valenzuela who will not see in the field (or in Higuain’s case, not see the field again) in 2019.
Problems are hitting the current side too. Defender Harrison Afful will miss Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC after being shown a red card for a harsh tackle on Sporting’s Gerso Fernandes. Winger David Accam, who was acquired by Columbus in a trade this year from the Philadelphia Union, came off in the 15th minute of Sunday’s game with what looked like a hamstring injury. He’s also been one of the team’s best players over the course of the past few weeks and now his future his unknown.
It’s been a tough stretch for Columbus. A stretch that, if you saw the second half of Sunday’s game against Kansas City, is beginning to wain on Porter’s side. This was their fourth game in the month of June, with a fifth coming this Saturday to close out the month and a whopping six on the way in July.
After the team suffered its ninth loss in the last 11 games, is it fair to ask if and when the team will kick it into gear? In the busiest stretch of the season, fatigue becomes a huge factor for MLS teams. The issue is beginning to become more and more evident with the Black & Gold.
If the losing continues to pile up for the Crew, it may only cast a bigger cloud over the team in which it will be impossible to remove. If Porter wants to give the city of Columbus an MLS playoff berth in 2019, the Black & Gold need to find answers to get positive results and fast.