Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Message Not Sent

As Columbus moves on from last Friday's terrible five-goal goal loss to Toronto FC we have learned two things. First: The team just wants to move on. There's nothing but ads about the upcoming "pups on the pitch event" from the team and there are little to no player quotes about the game. Second: Gregg Berhalter confirmed what many thought - Meram was benched.

The second thing there is concerning, but not surprising. Here is the quote:

“He’s been quite honestly he’s been one of our best attacking players if not the best. Him, Federico (Higuain), Ola (Kamara) have been our three most consistent attacking players,” Berhalter said. “It’s not easy but I looked at the game and it’s a message to the team that I think anyone can be taken out. The way the game was going, we made the decision that he was the one.”

Justin Meram isn't just one of the best attacking players on Crew SC, he's one of the best in MLS. On top of that, his form this year has been outstanding. So much so, you would be hard-pressed to find another player that has been in better form in recent Crew history.

Why bench Meram? The answer is very simple and one that Berhalter has struggled with since joining Columbus. "Path of least resistance." A benching of Higuain or Kamara would result in a lot of clean up duty. Multiple meetings and it would likely draw the eye of the league site and therefore more attention.

Benching Meram is also easier because is generally a good and loyal trooper. He'll take the hit and be back later this week in support of the action.

Berhalter even set this scenario up in his statement.

“I hope he’s not thrilled. I mean, he wasn’t thrilled, quite honestly, and we talked about it and the key to this whole thing is what we always say around here, which is, ’remain professional,’” Berhalter said. “Don’t be happy about it but remain professional about it and I think for the most part he did and that’s all I can ask of him."

Translation: Don't talk about it. Move on. Which Meram will do. Which is why he was chosen as the example.

I have never been a fan of this approah to man-management. It's a refusal to address issues directly with people and taking the easier road. Who was he trying to send a message too? Wil Trapp? Higuian? Just bench them if it's not working and deal with the fallout.

This type of management doesn't fix the problem, it only hides it. It's unfortunate for Meram. It'll be interesting to see how the next few weeks go for him. Hoping his good season continues.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Rd 14. 5-0 Loss is... notable

The inconsistency continues for Columbus as they suffer the worst loss in team history to a red-hot Toronto FC side.

Anytime there is a loss like this, you need to ask questions. Did the team give up? Is Toronto just that much better? Was this on the coach? Was it on the players? All of that sort of stuff. Unfortunately, when you lose like this, the answer to most of the questions is "YES."

It starts with the coach (and sporting director), however. There are two clear things happening at once right now that contributed to this horrifying result.

1. Tinkering. With formation and line-up selection. After three years of basically the same approach and lineup, Berhalter has been toying with a few more ideas and trying to plug in new players.

2. Mix of players. This one is on the entire staff - but ultimately comes down to Anthony Precourt. After a couple years of reshaping players he didn't sign, we are now seeing a true "New Crew" team. 2014-15? Not his signings. A strongly bonded core group of guys whose potential was unlocked. 2016-17? Some of the parts are still there from 2014-15 (Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain) but for the most part, this is Berhalter's group. And it's turning into a lumbering Frankenstein of sorts.

Summary: Multiple changes in approach and a lumpy, disconnected group of players.

Justin Meram had some sort of player speak quote after the game about "a loss is a loss, just one of 34." And, for once, I agree. It's a bad loss, but it's MLS regular season. The result, itself, doesn't mean shit. What does matter is their current mentality. Are the coaches concerned? Are players starting to worry about the season?

Whenever there is a bad result like this, there is a reason. More often than not we, the public, don't know what the issue is. But over the years I've learned that often it comes down to the leadership. Coaching. Something they did this week just didn't work and it fell apart.

This team is going the wrong way as far as results. This loss is bad. The issues are not easily fixed. This will be an inconsistent team for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rd 11, 12, 13: Midseason Inbetween

Crew Bottom
Columbus crosses unlucky round 13 with a loss to a bad New England Revs team on the road. This team is better than that, but as we enter the middle part of the season we are starting to see this very familiar lackadaisical side of each Crew side to come out during the Gregg Berhalter reign.

Different levels of effort, varying levels of interest. It's all here.

After a strong (fueled by a heavy home schedule) start, Columbus has all the sudden hit some hard times that are punctuated by a 3 point, three game home stand and uneven results in the last two away matches. Pulling back a bit, it's 6 points out of the last six. Not good. But par for the course that Berhalter plays on this time of year. Thus the lack of summaries from Helltown.

It sucks. As a matter of fact, it sucks the life out of things. After an amazing attendance year last year, Columbus is now last in MLS while sporting the worse year of year drop.

Is it possible that fans in Columbus are tired of the same old run of results they expect from this team? After all, this is a town that responds to winning. Case in point is the year after a Crew MLS Cup run, but now we have a year after a historically bad Crew year and fans are deciding to not show up.

It's difficult to determine what Columbus needs to do to get people back interested. With the way this particular market is, there may be nothing that can be done until the calendar turns to 2018.

What would help is having an exciting team but in order to have such a thing in Columbus you need to get on a huge run of results and be able to score 3+ goals a game. Nobody sees that happening with this team.

All this raises the question. Should Anthony Precourt look for a change? Generate some excitement, even if misguided, in town? Berhalter has a long career ahead of him and can call his shots on the US Soccer scene until the end of days, but is he the right person for this market. After all, isn't that what MLS is all about?

Columbus faces more MLS teams here over the next few weeks. The only thing to look forward to is the possibility of USL Cincinnati coming to town for the US Open cup later this summer.

Until then? 2017 Crew is an average team with Justin Meram and Ola Kamara, looking down the barrel of an uninspiring rest of the season.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rd 10: Win against incomplete team

Columbus took care of a team taking the year off in New England. That's a good thing. Crew SC should be beating New England. Everyone should be beating New England. That's not to say the game didn't have to be played. It did. Crew took care of business.

Gregg Berhalter was ejected and suspended for one game for kicking a ball at an opposing team player.

Above is the current MLS true table.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rd 9: Season Settles In

Reg season intensity level
We have reached the part of the season where players are in game shape and hitting, for better or worse, some kind of form. Goals are better. Interplay is better. Overall, just better. So when two teams that attempt to prepare and play a specific style (instead of just running around out there) it opens up.

This was the case when NYCFC traveled to Columbus last Saturday to take on Crew SC. 

It isn't to say that the game was a thing of beauty or one to remember. The defending by both teams was poor. It was more fun than many of the other games, but in the end, it was just a game that marked 1/4 of the season complete.

Columbus lost. They are working through injuries and lack of chemistry that comes with that (Mensah and Artur the two key guys there), are not settled in the right midfield and have a player kicking up dust about playing time. All these things are ingredients needed to give up leads in games.

These same ingredients are used in making a team mediocre, which seems to be the case with Crew SC at the moment. There is just too much noise right now for the team to be anything but average. 

With a quarter of the season complete we are now entering the patchy summer portion of the calendar where teams without depth (ie. most MLS teams) have wild quality swings game to game. Gregg Berhalter and crew will do their best to keep it together and above the playoff line. Which, now that that is typed, seems all that this season will be about.

Of note: Abu, Trapp, Mensah and Naess did not click in this game. The quality of play between these four is critically important to the success of Crew SC. It's not to say these players are not good, but there are concerns about turnover game to game. Stability is needed in order for it to work well.