Monday, June 19, 2017

Rd 17: Bad Week

Columbus ended up losing both games this week. The first was on Wednesday when upstart USL side FC Cincinnati were able to knock Crew SC out of the US Open Cup - and the second was back in MLS regular season play when expansion side Atlanta United handed them a 3-1 loss.

Gregg Berhalter needed a result in one of the two. I wrote about it early last week. Both games were an opportunity to get some of the heat and frustration building within the team off. It didn't happen.


We'll start with the Atlanta result. Geraldo Martino locked up Columbus by applying mild pressure all over the pitch. Columbus likes to knock the ball all around and then strike. Usually down the wings or looking for distribution from Frederico Higuain through the middle. By not allowing space to players with the ball it left it up to the Crew to rely on quick decision making and technical passing ability (vs. just passing around with no pressure and switching fields until something opened up).

This proved to be a relatively new way to beat Columbus. Previously, we had seen teams willing to bunker and wait out a result or apply intense pressure in their own half (or a combination of the two). By putting players up the field in the general areas of Crew players limited all that. It's part of the reason things got pinball-y in the 2nd half.

On the first goal, Josh Williams was caught off guard by the mild pressure. His thinking wasn't fast enough. Columbus was able to equalize, which is expected because of the number of chances the team is able to create, but everything turned random as the game wore on. Not Berhalter's way. An example of this was late in the game when Niko Hansen dribbled the ball into space and was not quick enough in making a decision. He lost it, Atlanta turned it into a goal at the other end.

The third goal came in a similar fashion. Crew SC mucked it up in the back and gave it away around the penalty area. Martino employed a simple system that didn't tire out his players (pressing) or required any great defensive positioning (bunkering).

This simple template is something other teams will pick up on. It'll be up to Columbus to figure out a way around it. The problem is; Outside of Artur and Higuain, there may not be enough technical talent to work out of mild pressure.


Columbus looked rusty coming out of the gates in this one. Things just were not connecting. After the looping header goal by FCC things didn't change. Crew SC just looked lost. And without a talented striker like Ola Kamara up top, things just didn't happen. In the end, it looked very much like a normal USL game.

Frustration for Gregg Berhalter's team spilled over after the game. Cameras picked up players arguing with opposing coaches and fans expressing displeasure with Columbus.

This game was unique in that it was one outside the comfort zone of normal MLS. The result mattered. It wasn't two teams owned by the same organization facing off. And it was a (relatively) local affair. On top of that Columbus has an inferiority complex when it comes to both Cincy and Cleveland ("pro cities).


It was a big week for the team. They are slipping in the standings (20th overall in the last 10 games) and the lost to a far less talented outfit.

Columbus has the talent and coaching to easily be a team battling for an MLS playoff spot but with the disappointment of last year still swimming around in player's heads, it might turn into a mind game. All Crew SC has to be is better than a few conference teams. DC and Philly are a given. Toronto, Chicago and NY City FC are better. This leaves Orlando, NYRB, Montreal and New England as the teams to beat.

Will that happen? All performance indicators are pointed down. It's not looking like it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

USOC: Why This Matters

Columbus Crew SC is traveling down I-71 to take on FC Cincinnati today for the fourth round of the US Open Cup. It's a match no short of reaction gifs and social media banter for sure, but there is more to it than that. Much more.

Following the template of Orlando City, FC Cincinnati (FCC) has burst onto the soccer scene with large crowds which have garnished the attention of Don Garber via talk of expansion. Because there is no way to earn your way in the top level of competition in the United States (and Canada!), FCC has to check off boxes like city size, demographics, stadium plans, ability to pay franchise fees and, of course, bring in good crowds.

Having just about all of those things, brand new FCC is now presented with an opportunity to play a competitive match against old and crusty Crew SC.

In contrast to FCC, Columbus is coming at this as a team that has been through all the battles of trying to survive. They were awarded an MLS franchise, they had the big crowds in the late '90s, they built the stadium. In the time between then and now, they've lived the lean times and faced down the challenges of an ever-changing league.

Imagine a different universe, if you will, where Cincinnati was selected as an original MLS city back in 1994 and Columbus just started in the USL. Things would be very similar, just reversed. FCC MLS would have burst onto the scene and made their way for 20 years and Columbus would be the young, hot and desirable city bidding for an MLS franchise.

What Columbus and Cincinnati are playing for tonight couldn't differ more. A win or loss on the pitch for FCC doesn't matter as much as the attention it will get for filling the stands and furthering their plan to become an MLS team. They will have the crowd so, in that regard, it is a win for them.

For Crew SC it is a bit more tricky. A win and they get to advance in a tournament that they clearly don't have much interest in. But a loss. A loss puts Gregg Berhalter in a position where he must have a good showing when he faces Atlanta United in MLS play this weekend.

Why? Columbus has been slipping in the standings all year. Their recent form of 6 - 10 games puts them firmly below the playoff line and looking too much like last year. If. IF. Berhalter loses this game tonight and has a poor showing against Atlanta, a game he is saving most of his regulars for, then his seat becomes very warm. Looking further down the road, missing the playoffs would lead to changes in coaching.

There is another dynamic to this game that most are missing. It is two teams facing each other that are not sisters. MLS is controlled centrally. Meaning: when teams face each other, they are playing fellow employees. FCC is separate from that (for now), so what we have is a rarity for soccer in the United States. Two teams independent of each other, facing off in a game that matters. It feels different because it is different.

It's an actual competitive match.

I'll be watching because of that.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mid-season MLS Report

With the MLS season just about halfway over (and the league mostly on an international break), I figured it'd be a good time to look at where things are.

1. Best Team: Toronto FC
They have only lost two games, are outscoring opponents by almost a goal per game (0.73) and, more importantly, holding the bad guys to only 1.00 goals a game. Defense wins in MLS because very few teams have the discipline to play it. On top of these figures, they make it look pretty easy.

2. Supporter Sheild Race
The most important race for me, but it's rarely something teams try and really get after. What an unfortunate thing. Anyway. Outside of Toronto, we have Chicago, FC Dallas and (maybe) Sporting KC if they can get their scoring going. I don't see anyone else really challenging for the SS outside that group right now.

3. Bottom Feeders
Just like any other MLS season, look to see who plays this group the most to find out who will shoot up the table. Real Salt Lake, Colorado and DC are terrible. They can't score. Minnesota is in there as well, but I can see some improvement there.

4. Helltown team of the first half
Tim Melia SKC

Brandon Vincent CHI
Seth Sinovic SKC
Justin Morrow TFC
Matt Besler SKC

Romain Alessandrini LAG
Maximiliano Morales NYCFC
Miguel Almiron ATL
Jack Harrison NYCFC

Nemanja Nikolic CHI
David Villa NYCFC

Bench: Sean Johnson NYCFC, Joao Meira CHI, Justin Meram CLB, Lee Nguyen NER, Maximilano Urruti FCD, Gerso SKC

5. favorites
Romain Alessandrini LAG, Maximiliano Urruti FCD, Ignacio Piatti MTL, Benny Feilhaber SKC, Miguel Almiron ATL, Justin Meram CLB.

6. Goal + Assist Leaders
NPG+A pGMNameTeamWage
0.98David VillaNYCFC$5,610,000
0.97Justin MeramCLB$328,750
0.93Romain AlessandriniLAG$1,999,401
0.89David AccamCHI$820,938
0.86Diego ValeriPDX$2,607,500
0.86Víctor VázquezTFC$700,000
0.85Yamil AsadATL$150,000
0.84Maximiliano UrrutiFCD$300,000
0.83Miguel AlmirónATL$2,297,000
0.82Nemanja NikolicCHI$1,906,333
0.75Héctor VillalbaATL$770,750
0.74Chris WondolowskiSJE$800,000
0.73Lee NguyenNER$500,000
0.73C.J. SapongPHI$300,000
0.69Jozy AltidoreTFC$4,875,000
0.69Christian RamirezMIN$392,504
0.68Julian GresselATL$93,750
0.67Jack HarrisonNYCFC$165,500
0.64Kei KamaraNER$800,000
0.63Federico HiguainCLB$1,050,000
0.62Cyle LarinORL$192,000
0.6Maximiliano MoralezNYCFC$2,000,000
0.59Diego FagundezNER$180,000
0.59Albert RusnakRSL$882,813
0.58Erick TorresHOU$665,000

7. Form Table

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rd 15, 16: In the Wilderness

Rolling Goal Diff
Columbus beat a severely depleted Seattle Sounders team on Wednesday and called it a good rebound game from the worst loss in team history the match before. Yesterday, they managed to erase that minor victory with a lapse in concentration that led to a 2-1 against worst-team-in-the-league Colorado.

The last three games are a microcosm of the version 2017 Columbus Crew SC. Wildly erratic in results, play and performance. In other words, inconsistent. And it seems to be getting worse as the more critical part of the MLS schedule approaches.

Looking back a little bit, the three-game win streak that was so critical to helltown early in the season is the only thing keeping this team from finding the bottom of the MLS table. Those results highlight why it is so, so important to get points when you can.

Looking at previous five, ten and 20 games for Crew SC shows us that things are better than the end of last season, but not much. 1.20, 1.20 and 1.30 PPG respectively. That's not giving fans anything to get excited about. At all.

To further punctuate how matters are slipping for Columbus is the chart at the top of this post. Anthony Precourt's team has not managed to dig their way out of negative results when looking at the previous 20 games. This is a particularly maddening metric as many have noted how Gregg Berhalter's teams have a nasty habit of going on extended runs of poor results.


This seems to be coming up as the losses pile up this season (especially the bad ones). My opinion? The results are inconsistent and Crew attendance is dead last in MLS. Just looking at the metrics in front of me, they are all pointing down. I also see a team that is constructed poorly and have a mess as far as leadership organization (from absentee operator Anthony Precourt to Wil Trapp as team captain). This team isn't going anywhere.

Does that warrant a change? I think so. If the Crew are thinking progressively, I'd move Gregg Berhalter to one role or the other. I'd go with Sporting Director. And then find another coach.

Berhalter isn't going anywhere, in regards to the USSF / MLS scene. Keep him aboard, but not as head coach. It's just not there. Or it's too much.

We'll see what happens. His results over the last 18 months or so say a change should be made, but to what? MLS is a small, small world. The next coach won't do much better.

Which is why I say that the team should get progressive. Get smart. think differently. It's the only way thing will work in the Columbus market. Especially with the way things are currently in town.