The Columbus Crew’s 2022 season ended on Saturday when the Black & Gold once again let a team come from behind, losing 2-1 at Orlando City SC. Columbus needed just a point from the match and was in a position to get that until conceding a goal from the penalty spot in the 84th minute.
Any time a season doesn’t end with the team lifting a trophy, there is disappointment. That is certainly the case for the Crew, but there is also the sudden nature of how missing the MLS Cup playoffs occurred and the recurring issues of this year’s group.
The blame game will now be played after a second straight postseason-less season for the Black & Gold. Head coach Caleb Porter shouldered that blame on Sunday evening after the loss and paid for it with his job on Monday. This was his team. These were his players. Those were his tactics that didn’t get the job done. Not just in the final game of the year, but throughout the season.
Once Cucho Hernandez arrived as a record signing midseason, the expectation was for this team to make the playoffs and that did not happen. This was a failure and Porter had to take responsibility for that.
But not all of the blame for the failure to win this season falls on the now-former head coach. This was a collective issue and the front office must take some of the criticism as well. That starts with president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and assistant general manager for player personnel and strategy Issa Tall.
Roster construction is a team game, and Porter was a major decision-maker in which players were a part of the Crew in 2022. But Bezbatcheno and Tall are right at the head of the snake in that department. Simply put, there were some major mistakes made when putting together this Black & Gold team.
While Bezbatchenko deserves to receive credit for player additions such as Lucas Zelarayan and Hernandez, two Designated Players that certainly have lived up to their transfer fee and wages, the attacking talent around those two players left much to be desired.
Kevin Molino and Yaw Yeboah, two wingers brought in during different transfer windows, were expected to be key offensive cogs for Columbus. Molino played in 22 games the last two seasons and had two goals and two assists. Yeboah took the field 19 times for the Crew in 2022 and managed just one assist and five shots on target. In the biggest game of the year against Orlando, where the team needed a result and could use goals, Molino came off the bench after an injury and Yeboah did not even make the game day roster.
The Black & Gold also brought in winger Alexandru Matan prior to the 2020 season, but he played just six games this season before being sent on loan, the same or fewer appearances than Crew 2 players Jacen Russell-Rowe and Mohamed Farsi who signed first-team contracts during the year.
Russell-Rowe had to be signed due to a lack of options at forward, which came because of a mismanagement of the position. The Columbus front office was concerned about the forward position heading into the year, yet elected to start the season with Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Berry. Despite Zardes’ experience and his 54 career goals for the Crew, Berry began the season as the starter. He could not build on his eight-goal breakout year in 2021. Neither forward got going offensively.
With the Black & Gold front office already knowing signing a DP striker heading into the year was likely, they waited until April to move Zardes to the Colorado Rapids, receiving just $300,000 in allocation money for a player who has played for the United States Men’s National Team 67 times. Berry was also eventually traded in late July.
Instead of being proactive, the team was reactive. This led to dropped points in 12 of the team’s first 17 games and in eight of those contests, the team did not score before the arrival of Hernandez.
Defensively, Columbus has had issues in the transfer market. While the front office deserves credit for adding right back Steven Moreira, who was among the best at his position in MLS this season, Milos Degenek played well but never completely locked up the center back spot next to Jonathan Mensah. The Crew elected to move 33-year-old winger Pedro Santos to left back after the departure of Milton Valenzuela, never finding a natural replacement at the position.
While not every signing is going to pan out, the Columbus front office has missed at some crucial positions during their tenure. Names like David Guzman, Fatai Alashe, Chris Cadden, Fanendo Adi, Vito Wormgor and Bradley Wright-Phillips are among the players who were expected to make an impact but struggled and departed quickly.
And while the front office gets credit or takes blame for additions and/or departures, Bezbatchenko worked closely with Porter on how the team played and who plays. While Porter made the ultimate decisions, this was a collaborative effort all around each match.
When a team does well, a coach often receives plenty of the credit and the opposite is true when a team struggles. This is why the coach is often the first to go when things go south. But success or failure comes from everyone involved, and Bezbatchenko and Tall, while not in the public eye as much, deserve as much of the blame as the head coach and need to get things right more often than they have for the next coach to be successful.