The 2021 Columbus Crew season has had its fair share of down moments. Before the Major League Soccer season kicked off, Homegrown midfielder Aidan Morris tore his ACL, rendering him unavailable for the entire year. New signings Marlon Hairston and Kevin Molino struggled to get healthy at the beginning of the season, made an impact when they started logging minutes in June but both now sit back on the injury list. Columbus suffered a historic losing streak, matching the club record of six straight losses.
That isn’t even all of it. There are levels to the despair, all juxtaposed to a magical moment in December when Columbus ended a pandemic-riddled season holding up the MLS Cup trophy.
There haven’t been a lot of positive moments in 2021 that supporters can hang on their scarf displays, except one. Miguel Berry’s clutch goal scoring placed him in a conversation of cult Crew legends, but that’s only on the surface. For as much as Berry’s energy on the field has resulted in points in the MLS standings, his passion off the field may be one reason that helps push the Black & Gold back into the playoffs.
Berry joined Columbus as the seventh overall draft pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. All of that first season was spent on loan with USL side San Diego Loyal. In seven 2020 appearances, Berry scored three goals and added two assists. This year looked like it would be much of the same, as Berry returned to San Diego after logging just two regular season minutes, in the Crew’s 0-2 loss to Toronto FC on May 12.
Head coach Caleb Porter brought Berry back to the club following three goals and one assist in seven appearances out West. The rest is Crew history.
Berry put the Black & Gold level, while playing a man down, in his first meaningful MLS minutes on July 9 again FC Cincinnati. Fast forward to the second installment of Hell is Real Derby of 2021 and Berry came off the bench again, this time scoring twice within 10 minutes of coming onto the field to help the Crew to a 3-2 win against the in-state rivals that snapped a six-game losing run.
While Columbus lost 3-2 on the road to Orlando City SC last weekend, Berry scored again, when the team was down to tie the match at 2-2. Go figure.
When the Black & Gold are down, and Berry is given an opportunity to play, he has come up big. Honestly, he wouldn’t have it any other way because fighting is what Berry’s career is all about.
“I’ve been chasing a spot to do this my whole life, so it’s not really uncomfortable for me,” said Berry this week about whether he’s concerned about the Crew sitting outside of the MLS Cup playoff line. “Whether I’m starting on the weekend, coming off the bench or cleaning Gyasi (Zardes)’s shoes, whatever they need me to do to win, I’m willing to do.”
For folks not new to the sports world, this can come off as a generic rookie platitude. Something to sound good. But for Berry, it’s hard to argue against its authenticity. His excitement on the field after scoring or highlighting his teammates in front of the Nordecke after big moments is evidence.
Berry’s also not showing any signs of his recent success going to his head. When talking with the media this week, his focus is clear: things for Columbus need to get better.
“At this point, every week, no matter where the team is, it’s a massive week,” said Berry. “I don’t think we care who we play anymore. I don’t think we can even look at who we play anymore.”
The second-year forward is also showing that in the Crew locker room, the sense of urgency is real.
“We have Miami this week,” he said. “I don’t even know who we have after that. It doesn’t matter. We just have to win this week.”
Thanks to Berry’s recent performances, scoring four goals in his six appearances since returning from loan, Columbus isn’t out of the playoff picture by any means. The Black & Gold sit three points out of the final playoff play-in game spot with 11 matches remaining. Inter Miami is the team’s next chance to close that gap on Saturday night. Luckily for the Crew, players are getting healthier.
There’s usually a pull though between fighting for a spot in the team or supporting the people in front of you. Berry’s benefited from players ahead of himself on the depth chart missing time and he doesn’t see it as either or on fighting for a spot or supporting the team. He’s living both.
While players are starting to return from injury, Berry sees it as a positive, even though its likely result is fewer minutes for himself.
“We’re lucky Gyasi is here,” said Berry about forward Gyasi Zardes’ return. “You see the national team now. They need him, we need him. He’s an unbelievable player and unbelievable professional.”
Berry is simultaneously doing all that he can to secure his job and elevating the collective. He’s also learning and taking in all that he can, regardless of the person’s position on the field. Like center back veteran Josh Williams, for instance.
“I’d want Josh on my team in anything we do,” said Berry. “We could be playing chess, you don’t even play chess in teams, but I’d want him on my team somehow. He’s just a winner.”
Now the Crew hopes that the return of some more winners, like Williams, who made his return last weekend after nearly three months out with an ankle injury, will turn into the results they need. For Berry, he’ll keep fighting.
“For me, I know that I need to perform as best I can every single day in training because I don’t have the 100-plus goals that Bradley (Wright-Phillips) has,” said Berry. “Gyasi is at what 82? Probably 83 by Sunday. I don’t have those goals; I have three or four so I need to prove myself every day.”