As the Columbus Crew cruised toward a comfortable 3-0 win against D.C. United on Saturday night at Lower.com Field, it felt like the Black & Gold had their mojo back, and the supporters did, too.
While the players scored hypnotizing goals and snapped a five-game winless streak, chants from The Nordecke roared throughout the stadium. Lower.com Field was back to being a cauldron of noise, and everything felt right again.
Before there was “Wise Men,” there were fans bowing to Lucas Zelarayán as he stepped up to take a corner and coaches celebrating as much as supporters when Darlington Nagbe unleashed a world-class volley.
For a team that had lost two straight at home, it felt like Saturday night was a turning point when things would change for the better. The Crew was back to playing like the Crew again.
Let the good times roll, because what comes next is the team’s hardest month to date.
Beginning with a trip to Foxborough to face the New England Revolution on Saturday, the Black & Gold play three-of-their-next four games on the road. Those opponents include the reigning Supporters’ Shield champs, the reigning MLS Cup champs, a perennial Eastern Conference power and a home date with a title contender sandwiched in between.
It’s a privilege to play meaningful soccer at any point of a season, but to do it at a time when the Crew is playing with confidence could bode well for the team.
The club is unbeaten in its last two and the previous road match, a scoreless draw at Sporting Kansas City, left head coach Caleb Porter thinking the group has a “blueprint” for earning results on the road.
“I thought it was a professional performance,” Porter said over the win against D.C. United. “With this team right now, that’s working. It also sets us up for on the road because we have three of the next four on the road. That type of plan will hopefully help us – that type of foundation.”
The foundation Porter is speaking to is the Crew flipping tactics, going from ultra-aggressive, to creating goals in transition. While Porter has almost always deployed the team in a 4-2-3-1 formation, he introduced a 4-3-3 against Detroit City FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. A few days later, that same formation delivered a point at SKC.
“Let's just start from a strong foundation of defending and being tough to play against,” the coach said. “By doing that, also you open up transitions, you can score goals with 15-20 passes breaking down 10 guys, but it's difficult. It's a lot easier just to defend well and play in transition when the space is there … what I'm learning right now is this system is really suiting our team.
“It's getting players onto the field that need to be in the game that bring a fight and bring a mentality that we need. And I think it opens up transitions for us and you see we're a very tough team to break down defensively.”
The Crew have earned clean sheets in its last two matches. On Saturday, the team plays an underperforming Revolution side that broke an MLS single-season record in 2021 for points recorded. In a lot of ways, this is a matchup where the Black & Gold are playing against what they just were – a good team that was lacking confidence and couldn’t string positive results together.
Columbus will be hoping that continues for New England, and for the newly-implemented tactics to lead to positive outcomes. May will be very difficult, but it could also be eye opening. Hopefully, it’s the latter for teams around the league seeing the Crew back to winning ways.
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