The coronavirus outbreak changed the world as we know it and with the number of people globally that are sick or have died, there are not many positives to take from this pandemic. But I was taught to always try to look on the bright side of life (sing it Nordecke), even in bad situations, and that’s what we’re going to try to do today.
Columbus Crew SC isn’t playing games right now. Major League Soccer initially suspended play for 30 days on March 12 and players were prohibited to practice as a team until March 15. That training ban was then extended for another week. So how do we look on the bright side of this situation?
While there aren’t many, there are some positives to this suspension of play for the Crew. Some of these may seem like a stretch, but sometimes you have to reach a bit for positivity in a difficult time. That’s what we’ll do to some degree here.
The first, and likely the most obvious, reason this break is good for the Black & Gold is it will allow the team to get healthy before play resumes. Columbus made it just two games into the MLS season before the coronavirus outbreak caused the stoppage but the team already had multiple injuries. Center back Vito Wormgoor suffered an ankle and rib injury in the first game of the year and missed the trip to the Seattle Sounders. Then left back Milton Valenzuela suffered an injury to the same knee in which he tore the ACL last year. While the damage was minimal — a torn meniscus — Valenzuela needs time to recover.
It’s possible that Wormgoor would have returned for the Crew’s last game against Real Salt Lake, as Massive Report was told not playing him on turf in Seattle was mostly precautionary and the player returned to training early last week, but that’s not a guarantee. Now Wormgoor will be 100 percent healthy whenever MLS play resumes.
Similarly, Valenzuela will have time for his knee to heal before the Black & Gold take to the field again. Head coach Caleb Porter said the defender was going to miss at least two games and likely return for Columbus’ home match against Toronto FC on April 4, the week after the team had a scheduled off weekend. Valenzuela had his knee scoped, which can sometimes take four weeks for recovery. Given the league won’t resume play until at least April 11, Valenzuela will have enough time to heal.
In addition to these two, left back Waylon Francis suffered a knee injury in preseason and he recently returned to full training. Forward Jordan Hamilton picked up an injury in the scrimmage last week. Rookie central midfielder Aidan Morris was also dealing with a minor ailment from preseason. Winger Youness Mokhtar had a minor injury as well. All of these players will now have forced time to get healthy.
Recovering from injuries was the first positive, but it’s not the only one. Of the three Crew games MLS postponed, two of those were at home. If you’re familiar with March/April weather in Central Ohio, it’s not always the prettiest, meaning these games will be rescheduled, hopefully, when the weather is nicer.
In the three home games played over this time span last year, the Black & Gold averaged 10,534 fans, a good bit below the nearly 15,000 fans the team averaged for the season. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-May when Columbus finally announced an attendance over 15,000 aside from the season-opener — May 11 against Los Angeles Football Club. Assuming MLS begins play by mid-May, two months after it halted it, this could provide the Crew with more nice weather games and help boost home attendance in the final year at MAPFRE Stadium.
It’s only fair to point out the downside of this plan. With MLS hoping to still play a full 34-game season, many of these makeup games will have to be played midweek to fit into the schedule — unless the league wants to push the regular season back multiple weeks. The Black & Gold traditionally don’t draw as well for midweek games, which could hurt attendance for other matches.
The positive spin on this is that after so long without any sports, fans may be clamoring to be out at a sporting event. Those who may not typically attend a Wednesday Crew game, for instance, might decide it’s worth it given what they missed during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
Finally, it’s not often that a coaching staff gets to see their team play in two competitive matches and have time to analyze and fix/tweak things. If the regular season continued as scheduled, Columbus would have played two more Saturdays before an off week where the team would have time to work on things it typically doesn’t during regular game preparation.
While Porter and his staff certainly would prefer to be at the facility and on the practice field rather than dealing with the suspension of play, they certainly aren’t sitting around doing nothing over the break. The staff will have examined those first two games thoroughly, as well as gotten a better look at some upcoming opponents, who also played at least two competitive games.
When MLS does announce a return, teams will almost certainly be given time to get players back in shape — almost like a mini preseason — and that’s when these lessons can be instilled. It could help better prepare the Black & Gold for the rest of the season to come.
These are not fun times for Crew fans or anyone around the country. But staying positive and looking for the light at the end of the tunnel certainly helps. Stay healthy and remember, we will have soccer back soon.