In order to preview tomorrow’s game between D.C. United and Columbus Crew SC, we contacted Pat Murphy of our sister site Massive Report to get the lowdown on all things yellow. For our answer’s to Pat’s questions, head on over to Massive Report.
Alpha: Your Crew have fallen a long way since hosting MLS Cup last year. What's going on, and does Gregg Berhalter have to worry about losing the locker room?
There are several answers to what's going on. First, the team isn't and hasn't been as healthy as last year. Federico Higuain and Gaston Sauro are the two big names that have missed substantial time; big parts of the Crew SC attack and defense. Other players have missed out for various reasons as well and more than once, Berhalter has fielded a match day roster with less than 18 players.
With that said, there's more to it than just that. The confidence and spark that the team had in the back half of last season isn't there. Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Toronto FC is a prime example. A year ago, there was confidence the team would grab a late goal in a tight game at home and come out with a win. On Wednesday, though Columbus pushed for the winner, the play was slow and the side never really looked that dangerous in the closing stages. Some of that has to do with the departure of Kei and the way he could just pull goals out of thin air, but an inability to finish chances has become a big concern outside of the No. 9 spot.
Finally, it's been key moments that have killed the Black & Gold this year. Once again I point to Wednesday where Columbus went up 1-0 and was seemingly in control of the match, only to have a bunkering TFC score on a mistake in the defensive third that should not happen. Similar things happened in both Kansas City two weeks ago and New England last weekend. It's been weird, that's for sure.
As for the locker room, I don't get a sense Berhalter has much to worry about there. The players trust him and they've seen him get results. Ethan Finlay said earlier this week that the poor outcomes are on the players and it's their responsibility to turn things around. Many players have said it only takes one win to get some confidence back and that can snowball. The team hoped it would start Wednesday. Now the focus is on Saturday.
2: Kei Kamara famously moved from the Buckeye State to New England earlier this spring. In his place, Ola Kamara seems to be the best thing going for Columbus. Are you happy with how he's replaced his Sierra Leonean countryman, or are you still missing MLS's Mr. Chipotle.
I think Columbus is certainly still missing Kei. He's a rare specimen with his abilities plus his athleticism. They just don't make too many like him, especially in this league.
With that said, Ola has been a great surprise (at least to fans). He's managed to score as many goals as Kei, but do it in different ways. Once his teammates started getting him the ball in the right places, that ball was finding the back of the net. Now he has to start doing it as a marked man. Toronto played with three center backs on Wednesday and while he got a few chances, Kamara never looked as dangerous as he did the previous few games. There is belief among the team in Ola, but the scary thing is, if he goes down, there is no backup as Conor Casey is out with a knee injury.
C: Do the Crew have any hope of turning this season around, or is it time to start building for 2017? Either way, what do Columbus need to do to move forward?
It depends who you ask. The players and coaching staff certainly believe things can be turned around. It may sound astounding, but Crew SC are only five points out of the playoffs. The focus for the team is to get above that red line in a fairly weak Eastern Conference. They know players are getting healthy and that will help, plus they've seen this team turn things around over the last two years. This is a bigger mountain to climb, but the belief is there.
If you ask the fans, more and more are turning their attention to next year. There were rumblings of "Sack Berhalter" supporters and those are becoming louder. Fans wants to see something different or something that makes them believe and after Wednesday's draw (TFC were without Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Clint Irwin) there is a growing sense of doubt that this will come.
If you're asking me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I realize that injuries have played a huge part, but also that this team wasn't playing great when healthy (and with Kei). While I agree with the fans that it's getting harder to believe in a turnaround with each passing poor result, I also see the fact that the playoffs aren't far off. I've also witnessed turnarounds in this league over 18 games much bigger than a five-point hole.
As for what they need to do, it starts with getting healthy. Higuain is back training and should be back soonish. That will help settle the offense, one would think. While Sauro isn't going to be back until likely September, Columbus has a lot of money to spend thanks to the Kei deal. Berhalter keeps saying they're working on bringing in the "right guy(s)" instead of just anyone, which I believe is important, but something has to happen soon or it will be too late to get a player (or players) up to speed before the season's over. Finally, I think players like Ethan Finlay and Wil Trapp need to play to the level they are capable. Both of these guys will tell you it hasn't been their best season and they are a big part of what this club does on the field.
Harrison Afful-Michael Parkhurst-Tyson Wahl-Waylon Francis
Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
Federico Higuain is questionable after sport hernia surgery but Berhalter said he's not ready for this game. Gaston Sauro tore his PCL and won't be back for the foreseeable future. Conor Casey reaggravated a knee injury and is listed as questionable but was wearing a brace on Friday and doesn't look good to go yet.