It’s remarkable that Columbus Crew have been so bad this year that jokes about John Kasich’s presidential campaign have (almost) gone by the wayside. The Ohioans have only seven goals through their first eight games — a pace that will put them about 25 goals behind last year’s blistering pace. They’re also stuck on eight points and about to host the East-leading Montreal Impact. FTH, CCSC?
Gregg Berhalter is possibly going through his MLS baptismal. Much like Caleb Porter at Portland, Berhalter has built on success with a plan and a system. The soccer gods, as is their wont, laugh at a skipper who thinks those two things matter.
It’s also possible (and a bit more rational) that Columbus simply aren’t creating the chances they did a year ago. Neither winger, Justin Meram or Ethan Finley, has been as incisive as they need to be in order to make the attack effective. Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara have been stuck playing a two-man game that opposing defenses have been happy to absorb. Kamara is enormous and made of steel, but he’s not invincible. Higuain is one of the most clever playmakers in the league, but without help out wide he’s essentially stuck solving defenses like a 3rd grader playing The Witness (yes, the puzzle game, not a weird adaptation of the Harrison Ford vehicle.)
If Crew brass want a Massive attack on their hands, they can keep ignoring the fan section’s plea to free young winger Cedrick Mabwati from the bench, and at this point — why not? As MLS’ in-house analyst Matt Doyle pointed out last week, the playoffs are mostly cast by the time the season has it its 20% mark.
Columbus would have to leap both New York teams and New England or DC to sneak into the sixth spot. None of these coasties are any good, but it’s rapidly becoming clear that the Crew isn’t either. Their month finishes with matches against Colorado, Toronto, and Real Salt Lake. These are three of the best teams in the league so far. If Columbus can’t get at least six points out of the month, a hot June against international-depleted rosters may not matter.
Speaking of Colorado and Real Salt Lake, they will meet Saturday night in Commerce City, Colo. for a surprising top-of-the-West matchup. Both are undefeated at home and both are playing disciplined, organized, soccer. This is the year we laud Pablo Mastroeni and decry Gregg Berhalter. Who knew?!
Colorado has had a decent defense for a while, but they haven’t had to spend the entire game in their half this year. The Rapids have only let in 8 goals so far, meaning that every team they play is Columbus in a sentence that would’ve had the exact opposite meaning six months ago. They’ve also scored 12, which even with Shkelzen Gashi is a revelation. Letting Jermaine Jones cause problems up the pitch seems like a miracle so far, even if there’s lots of soccer to be played.
It would be an even greater miracle if they could keep it up. The mile-high Dick’s Sporting Goods Park has always been a tough place for visitors. If Colorado can build on that confidence to be tenacious away, MLS could have the sort of teeth-gnashing and vicious MLS Cup winner that will turn Don Garber into the Do Not Want dog. Even if USMNTers are leading the charge.
But neither the Rapids nor RSL will likely be in the Supporters Shield picture come September, the West is too competitive for that. Which, irony of ironies, means that the points leader will be whoever runs away in the depleted East. The betting money is on Toronto to be sure, who have both a) survived an eight-game road trip to start the season and b) the reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco playing in-form. The Reds host Dallas this weekend, and could put a hurting into the very talented but ultimately scuffling Texans.
It seems easy to talk about what’s going to happen next but as mentioned in the beginning here: soccer gods. There’s no clear sign what’s going to happen this very weekend. The West may be dominated by two of the most grueling teams in the league, or it might not. The East may be won by a group of underperforming Canadians, or perhaps some other new hotness. It’s anyone’s game. Just not yours, Columbus.
Writer Asher Kohn routinely writes about MLS and soccer for SiriusXM. Rap with him on Twitter at: @ajkhn. Don’t forget, you can catch all our soccer action (MLS, EPL, etc) this weekend on SiriusXM FC (Ch. 85)
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