The Columbus Crew is undeniably going through its worst run of form in the 2020 Major League Soccer season, but the Black & Gold are determined to put an end to it on Sunday when they host New York City FC at MAPFRE Stadium.
Coming off a pair of 2-1 setbacks to the Montreal Impact (the team’s first home loss of the season) and in-state rivals FC Cincinnati (Columbus’ first defeat in the Hell is Real Derby in MLS) in the span of only four days, the Crew has dropped from the top of the Eastern Conference to the third place.
After four-straight matches without getting a win, the team thinks it’s time to start moving up again.
“We had a bad week, two bad results,” head coach Caleb Porter reflected. “We have to put it behind us now and move for the next game. We have everything to play for, there’s still six games to go, so we can’t just keep that lingering, we have to move on from it. We did a lot of work over the last three days in terms of preparing, reflecting and correcting and we put this last week to bed. And our focus now is in on making it right in the next game.”
Columbus’ situation may look worse than it actually is for many from the outside due to the fact that the team’s last win now dates back to Sept. 23, when the Black & Gold downed Minnesota United 2-1 at home. The Crew is winless in its last four matches, but according to Porter, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the team’s most recent results were negative ones and that the performances were disappointing in each of those matches.
“We haven’t won in four games but to me, it’s really about the last two matches,” the coach commented. “I don’t think the Toronto result on the road (3-1 loss) is a bad result, they’re a very good team. And with Dallas, to get a draw (2-2) on the road coming from behind, it’s a good result. We didn’t become a bad team in a week. We’ve managed the season really well except for the last week and that’s important to remember.”
In New York City FC, the Crew will find an opponent going through a sort of similar run of form. The Citizens climbed the Eastern Conference standings with three consecutive wins but dropped back-to-back losses and currently rank sixth in the conference.
As with Columbus, which has struggled to handle the absences of key players in injured midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan, NYCFC has recently been hampered by injuries to midfielder Maxi Moralez and striker Heber and the transfer of Designated Player winger Alexandru Mitrita.
“This is normal in a season and even more in one like this, in which we’re dealing with some extra factors such as the constant testing, the compressed schedule and the challenge of traveling and playing on the same day,” Porter added. “Everybody in the season has issues and injuries, we’re not the only ones dealing with that. And in the end, the teams that get to manage them better are the ones that are going to be on top.”
The process of putting the latest results behind and focusing on getting a different outcome on Sunday included hard work at the team’s training facility in Obetz, but also some long team meetings in which not only Porter and his coaching staff, but also the players had an opportunity to get their feelings and thoughts out regarding the team’s situation.
That sort of meeting, Porter believes, has the power of working as a catalyst to not only getting the team out of its bad run of form but also to righting the ship and making the Crew peak in the most important moment of the season.
“It’s a lot of little things,” Porter said about the most important aspect of the meeting. “You want to bring some points up and to refer to some of your past experience in similar situations, but you also want to let guys talk because it’s really important that they take ownership. You want to hear their thoughts and that’s not always easy.
“In every year there’s at least one period where you have a pivotal moment when you need to come together as a group. After the last match, I was more motivated than ever for the next three days of work because I knew it was an opportunity for us to come together and get stronger. You never feel good with those losses sitting with you, but if you approach it the right way, you can become a better team through it. We’ve done that and I’m confident we’re going to have a good performance.”