On Saturday, the Columbus Crew suffered the team’s second loss in a row. This time, an own goal in the second minute of the game served as the match-winner, giving the Philadelphia Union the three points at home off of a 1-0 victory. It secured the Union’s place at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The defeat also frustrated Black & Gold supporters. It was a second straight disappointing result in a season where Columbus started with a resounding 4-0 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps. In the first four matches of the year, the Crew secured eight out of 12 available points. Since then, it’s been two losses due to two match-changing mistakes.
After the match, center back Miloš Degenek spoke with the media. For new supporters of the Crew, Degenek joined the Black & Gold in the offseason after winning titles in Serbia, with Red Star Belgrade. Those trophies gave him Champions League experience playing against teams like Liverpool and Tottenham of the English Premier League. Prior to that, he played professional soccer across Asia and Europe before joining MLS and the Crew.
Looking through Degenek’s résumé, the lone piece missing is playing in a World Cup, which his Australian National Team is in the throes of qualification. In other words, Degenek’s seen just about everything there is to see in the sport.
When prompted about how the team can bounce back for this Saturday’s match against Orlando City SC, Degenek’s response was different.
“I think there’s nothing to bounce back from,” said the defender. “It’s football. It’s not the end of the world — no one has died. Everyone’s staying healthy, everyone’s family is healthy.”
Degenek’s reminder of futility isn’t a new thing by any means. Athletes like NBA star LeBron James famously said basketball was just a game when his then Cleveland Cavaliers were down 0-2 in the 2017 NBA Finals. It’s a sentiment that brings with it mixed reviews from supporters and athletes alike.
This wasn’t all that the center back said on Saturday. Degenek added that his comments weren’t meant in a dismissive manner toward the result. The team will come back together, analyze the film, identify problems and players will work towards improving their individual performances to help the team.
Columbus went on the road to face one of the best MLS teams of the past four seasons and an early mistake changed the game. This comes one week after another disappointing result happened due to a slip from defender Pedro Santos in a 1-0 loss to Nashville SC.
Each moment is aggravating on its own. Each moment snowballed and forced a Crew team that started the season with two wins and two ties to lose confidence from the supporting public. But it’s important to remember, it’s just two losses.
Looking at the entirety of their last two performances, the Black & Gold were unlucky in the last two games. If a slip and mishandling of a ball don’t happen, Columbus has more space to move around the field and take better chances on goal.
Whether it was at the beginning of the season or in the MLS Cup playoffs, Degenek’s point still stands strong though. This is just a game.
In 2018, Degenek shared his non-soccer experiences in an article for the Athlete’s Voice. The piece written by Degenek himself talks about his family going through two wars before his family moved to Australia when he was 10 years old. Sirens broke up soccer matches with friends. Degenek didn’t know if he or his family would wake up in the morning if they got to sleep the night before.
It maybe feels a little extreme to bring it up when discussing soccer, but it’s not only extreme, it’s normal and still happening.
These experiences haven’t made Degenek or his teammates, who all have their own stories, play with less intensity. Head coach Caleb Porter applauded both Degenek and center back partner Jonathan Mensah for their play throughout the match, holding the Union to one goal.
Is Degenek’s life brought up to mask a team’s performance or talks about shifting players and personnel? Not at all. Simply for perspective and a look into priorities.
The Crew has decisions to make if the time comes, but is that time now? Not likely.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before we have a bit more luck going forward and defensively as well,” said Degenek. “To deserve to get that luck, you need to work hard, you need to be honest with yourself, you need to be honest on the training pitch and I think we are there. I think lady luck and luck will come our way the next couple of weeks.”