How did Columbus Crew SC get here?
Just a few weeks ago, the Black & Gold had lost five consecutive games and were on the verge of going well over two months without a win. Fans in Columbus were not pleased, some even calling for the firing of first-year head coach Caleb Porter.
But in the last two weeks, things have seemed to turn for the Crew. The Black & Gold managed a come-from-behind 2-2 draw at the Chicago Fire on July 17 and followed that up with the first win — 2-1 against the Montreal Impact at home — three days later. Columbus built on the momentum over the weekend, defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-2 at Red Bull Arena.
All of a sudden, the vibe around the team is different and people are feeling good about the Crew again.
So what changed?
“I think a little bit of confidence never hurts,” Porter said. “So when you get a couple of results, now you have the belief in confidence.”
The confidence certainly appears to be different. Twice down in Chicago, the Black & Gold fought back, including a late equalizer from recent acquisition Romario Williams on his debut. Despite giving up a tying goal just before halftime, Columbus kept its composure and took the lead early in the second half against the Impact and saw out the rest of the match. In one of the more difficult stadiums to play, the Crew kept the momentum going and weren’t phase again last Saturday even after going down a goal and giving up an equalizer to the Red Bulls.
For a team that couldn’t score goals and was getting punished at every opportunity just a few weeks ago, this group certainly feels different all of a sudden.
“It has to do with the players,” Porter said. “The players deserve all the credit. They’re the ones out there making the plays. There were some games where we played really well, I said it time and again. You can do the stats with (losing) nine games by one goal and six games 1-0, we’re right there every game. Possession numbers, shots, all that. And I said it, it’s down to players making plays and they’re making plays and they deserve all the credit, not me. I’ve done nothing different.”
It also helps the Black & Gold finally have a near full squad. After a summer that saw multiple players miss time with injuries — including key playmaker Federico Higuain who is out for the year — and important pieces leave for an extended period of time with the United States Men’s National Team, guys are getting healthy and have returned from international duty.
On top of that, the players acquired in the summer transfer window — ones that are a better profile for what Porter and his staff want — are finally getting into the team and having their presence felt. Williams scored his first goal, which was assisted by newly acquired winger Luis Diaz. Eloy Room has back-to-back starts in goal for Columbus. Jordan Hamilton finally arrived after a delay with his work visa.
Not only are these players making an impact in games, such as Williams and Diaz, but in practice as well. The level of training increased as more talented players arrived to the club.
“It’s not always the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s and we’ve got some good Jimmy’s and Joe’s,” Porter said. “I think you add in at the top then you certainly have some guys that drop off at the bottom but now all of a sudden you get a one, two, three and I have some tough decisions, which is great. We go best verse best in training every day, which raises the level for everybody and guys are confident, they’re hungry.”
Despite the recent turn in form, the Crew are under no impression that the team has accomplished anything yet. Although the Black & Gold climbed over the Fire in the standings with the win over the weekend, Columbus still sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of the final playoff spot. The three teams currently standing between the Crew and the postseason not only have more points but each have a game in hand over the Black & Gold.
According to projection website FiveThirtyEight.com, Columbus has just a seven percent chance to even make the MLS Cup playoffs, the fourth-worst odds in the league.
“I don’t know where they come up with those percentages,” Porter said with a laugh when the odds were presented to him. “How do they come up with those percentages?”
For the Crew, the goal is still to reach the postseason. While the team has long odds, the Black & Gold players and staff wouldn’t be competitors if they didn’t continue to fight to make the playoffs until they are statistically eliminated.
It won’t be easy, but making a run to the postseason is also not impossible for a team that is starting to get healthy and find its form.
But that is certainly not the focus for the Crew at the moment. It’s all about continuing to play well and getting the result in the next game.
“For me, we’ve got to focus on the next game and the next game is going to be one of our toughest of the year,” Porter said.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s not make it anything more than it is. It’s a good run of three games and we’ve got to look to win the next game. And if we don’t, we’ve got another game around the corner at home.”
The Black & Gold are on the road again this Saturday, traveling to the hot San Jose Earthquakes, who are winners of four straight and have gotten a result in 10 of the last 11 games. That contest will kick off at 10 p.m. ET from Avaya Stadium.