Sunday, November 2, 2014

1st Leg: Crew vs Revolution--Where Does the Fault "Lie?"

When an earthquake sends you scurrying in no particular direction (seriously, where are you supposed to go during an earthquake?), anxiety levels reach unprecedented heights. After the shaking is over, the sweaty, scared and slightly off-kilter survivors can be seen pointing at jagged cracks in the soil and blacktop. They are looking for a reason. Something is at fault. Sorry, pun built-in.

The immediacy of a professional soccer match, like the one which took place in Crew Stadium Saturday afternoon (Columbus Crew 2-4 losers to the New England Revolution), is a little like an earthquake. Unlike a real-life-threatening earthquake, the hometown fans don't run aimlessly about. They watch closely as the small cracks turn into gaping holes; but, often, they still only see the jagged cracks on the surface.

The first reason voiced by the gathered throng for the devastating performance is "That player sucked!" The second reason is often "The coach messed up!" While some bit of blame can be laid at the feet of the Columbus Crew players and the coach, I'm going to argue that the real fault lies within an aspect of the Crew's new-found success.

The 2014 Black and Gold have worked diligently to be successful. Not just successful, entertaining.

With Gregg Berhalter's Crew, success has sprung, some would say oddly, from playing open, risk-taking soccer all over the field. Outside backs fly up the wings for ninety plus minutes, leaving the central backs responsible for large amounts of space and more than the typical number of counter attacks. The Crew also line-up with what amounts to three forwards and an attacking central mid. Add to the above facts the purposeful playing of the ball on the ground between the goalie, the central backs and holding midfielders, and the Columbus Crew, under Gregg Berhalter, have consciously made the decision to be unlike any other team in Major League Soccer.

The 2014 Columbus Crew are not a counterattack team. They are not a two forward, four midfielders kind of team. The 2014 Crew are a team, and individual players, constantly pressuring and under pressure. They are also damn fun to watch. So, what went wrong Saturday, November 1, 2014?

Simply put, there were way too many passes which came-up short of their mark. There were way too many runs off the ball which asked too much of the player with the ball. There was an urgency to score, which way too often did not match the situation in which the player found himself. These simple things were the "fault." The same "fault" could be seen in the last regular season game.

If the Crew are to have a chance of defeating the New England Revolution in this home and away, aggregate goal series, they must rediscover the foundation of what makes their style successful. The foundation of the way the Columbus Crew play under Greg Berhalter is consistent brilliance in the bedrocks of soccer: completed passes, quality first touch, and players reading each other and the game.

If Greg Berhalter and the Crew players are going to continue playing unlike any other Major League Soccer team (Please don't stop, it's damn fun to watch, and the return in the future is unlimited), they must re-commit themselves to the bedrocks of soccer.

There will be time and more money, in the off-season to add to the roster. Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time for Gregg Berhalter to tell his players they have forgotten the part of the equation that goes along with freedom and creative license...accountability for the repetitious and mind-numbing ordinarily brilliant completed pass and simply perfect first touch.

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