Through 9 matches in the 2020 Major League Soccer regular season, Columbus Crew SC has only been scored on twice. This is not only the greatest start to a season defensively in Black & Gold history, but it equals the 2010 LA Galaxy as the greatest start to a season defensively in Major League Soccer history.
With 13 goals scored, the Columbus offense has certainly also carried its way, however as the adage goes, “if we score we might win, if they don’t score we can’t lose.” The defensive dominance of the Black & Gold is without question the key factor in the Crew’s position at the top of both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings going into Match 10.
Historically, this hasn’t always been the situation for Columbus. The 2019 season was plagued with late-game goals conceded that cost the Black & Gold valuable points and saw the Crew without a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs. This begs the question, what is the key to Columbus’ defensive success in 2020? And the answer? Well, that depends on who you ask.
According to a fresh set of eyes, the Crew’s newest acquisition Fatai Alashe, one key is leadership.
“Leadership plays a big role in it,” the midfielder stated. “There’s a lot of big leaders all across the backline,” citing the likes of Columbus veteran Harrison Afful, captain Jonathan Mensah and goalkeepers Eloy Room and Andrew Tarbell.
However, leadership is just a part of the equation. Alashe also stated, “Part of it is, we’re a team that looks to keep the ball. It’s harder to get scored on when you have the ball for the majority of the game.”
That’s simple. If the other team doesn’t have the ball, it would take something disastrous for them to score. This is a sentiment Crew head coach Caleb Porter reinforced.
“We take a lot of pressure off of the defending when we have the ball,” he said.
However, Porter went on to clarify that the Black & Gold’s strategy, despite the defensive success, is definitely not to sit back and defend all match. The coach sees balance as a vital piece of the Crew’s success.
“Our philosophy in our club is about balance on both sides of the ball.” Porter explained. “There are some clubs that focus more on defending, and some clubs that focus more on attacking. We focus on both. And we really feel like, for us to be playing in the way that we want to play, it’s important that we never lose sight of both sides of the ball.”
This was evident in the Crew’s 1-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union last Wednesday, as several attacks by the Union were thwarted by a swarm of Black & Gold jerseys.
“There were a couple of situations versus Philly where we had basically eight, nine guys in the box clearing things out, putting their body on the line, putting their face in the way,” Porter recalled.
The coach explained the importance of versatility, and having “attackers who defend and defenders who attack.” Porter clarified, “defending is a team thing, not an individual thing.”
An example of this came against Philadelphia as the Union fired a shot that made it past Room. As the goalkeeper turned his head to watch the ball, in what seemed like a sure goal, Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe came through with a clutch clearance to prevent what would have been only the third goal scored against the Crew this season.
When asked about Nagbe’s save, Room said simply, “That’s a great example of our team at this moment. We want to fight for each other and help each other out.”
And that is Room’s key to success for the Columbus in 2020: Chemistry.
“This is the first time that I played in a team that was so close as a team,” the keeper said. “We’re also friends outside of the pitch. I’ve played (for) a lot of teams, this team is really like a little family and it’s something special.”
And that’s a point Crew fans can agree on. This season, the Black & Gold is something special. Whether you attribute their success on the pitch to leadership, balance, chemistry, or all of the above, the end result is undeniable. This team is fun to watch and is putting together what is shaping up to be one of the best seasons in club history.