Ask anybody within the Columbus Crew about the team’s recent three-game losing stretch and they will probably say that it hasn’t been the greatest week-plus. Columbus’ lackluster performances are well documented around local and national Major League Soccer media outlets after getting outscored 11-5 in those games, including two home losses.
To those on the outside, it may feel like the building is on fire and 911 is giving you a busy signal. For those within the Crew’s locker room, that is not the mindset.
At press availability this week, head coach Caleb Porter, defender Jonathan Mensah and midfielder Darlington Nagbe all shared that they’ve had better performances than in the last three games. Porter pushed continuity of lineup, while Nagbe and Mensah spoke about the constantly changing midfield and center back partnerships over the past month.
While there is a sense of urgency among these team leaders, there was no panic in their voices despite the recent run of form. Maybe that was by design. Maybe having two of the calmest personalities on the team speak was pre-planned but there was a consistent message of stay the course.
“It’s always the same, the processes, you put in the work,” said Mensah when asked if there was anything they’ve changed following the matches. “After the results, we still remain the same, we still remain together.”
The fact that the team isn’t making wholesale changes can be a difficult pill to swallow for supporters, especially as the seventh-place Black & Gold inch closer and closer to being on the outside looking in at Eastern Conference playoff spots. Through all the outside chatter, staying calm is the theme.
“Give it time, we’re very calm, I’m calm, the coaches are calm, the club’s calm, and the players are calm,” said Porter.
That’s easier to do for Columbus than other sides.
Crew supporters don’t like excuses. But there is validity to reasons.
Some of those include the fact that Columbus was tied with the Houston Dynamo for the most players away at the Gold Cup with five missing (Houston hasn’t won since May 22), starters in fullback Milton Valenzuela, midfielder Artur and defenders Josh Williams and Vito Wormgoor have been out extensively with injury (forcing the Crew to put midfielder Liam Fraser in at center back), new additions of Kevin Molino and Marlon Hairston not being healthy enough to make team debuts until the end of June or Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes only playing seven regular season matches together.
Yes, ignoring all of those “excuses,” things look bleak for the Crew but there may be a case for this idea of staying calm and patient. Columbus is, after all, the 2020 MLS Cup champions. The Black & Gold keep fighting too, even when down.
Look at the last two matches. The Crew could have easily thrown in the towel against D.C. United, down 3-0 in the first half. Instead, the team rallied two goals before an obvious defensive error allowed United to add a fourth. Against Atlanta, Columbus was down two goals and had the same approach.
Those moments don’t add to the point total in the standings, but it shows that the Black & Gold aren’t a side that is overwhelmed by a few losses.
“Fortunately, we’re experienced because your head can get a little clouded,” said Porter. “Even though it’s a week after a tough week, players, coaches, clubs, if you’re not calm you start panicking. That won’t happen here. Give us a couple weeks and you’ll see.”
The timer is set. Until then, remember there are 16 regular season matches left and Columbus is a roster full of players that have been in this position before.