When the Columbus Crew triumphed over Atlanta United on July 24, head coach Caleb Porter called the performance an “unbelievable road win.” Moments later, he declared the 2021 Crew roster “one of the tightest locker rooms” he’s ever coached.
For a two-time MLS Cup champ, that compliment doesn’t just slip off the tongue.
“It’s not always perfect, it’s not always pretty,” Porter said. “We’ve had some very good games where it is, but every game we bring the fight and we bring the energy and it’s not just the guys starting the game, it’s the guys coming into the game as well. When you have a group of guys that care for each other, that want to fight for each other and that are hungry, you’re able to pull off pretty special results and special things in the long run.”
Porter’s words have never felt more validated, even if it’s not in the same context as he shared them back in late July. Since then, the club has lost three straight games, including to Atlanta this past Saturday.
The club that once had an impressive unbeaten run now finds itself needing to recover from short-term setbacks.
To use the soccer cliché, the Crew needs to “go again.” And they will.
This is virtually the same roster that won the MLS Cup last year, albeit with a few new faces and players unavailable with injuries. As Porter alluded to, at times, it comes easy for the Black & Gold. As we’ve seen, that wasn't the case last week.
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But now the Crew are in the midst of their first full week between matches in a month. Then, a 10-man Columbus rallied from a two-goal deficit to draw FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. A week later, they beat New York City FC, 2-1, at Lower.com Field.
With more days between matches, that means players can recover, refocus and get ready for Sunday night’s game at Chicago Fire FC. From there, the Crew play at the New York Red Bulls next Wednesday, followed by an MLS Cup final rematch against Seattle Sounders FC the following Saturday.
“We can’t put our heads down and wait for a miracle,” Pedro Santos said on Saturday night. “We have to work, see what we are doing and try to be better for the next game and try to get some points. We know we have a very good team, and we can get through this situation.
“I believe we can do that in the next game, but like I said, we have to work hard to get through this situation.”
If the Crew has proven anything recently, it’s that they can work through any difficult situation. In regard to the last three matches, the goals allowed have predominantly come from individual mistakes. Those can be eradicated by confidence and should be seen as growing pains. Remember, the Crew are still essentially at the halfway point of the season.
Players like Liam Fraser, who’s joined on loan from Toronto FC, looks comfortable playing alongside Darlington Nagbe in place of Artur, or in the backline paired with Jonathan Mensah. Marlon Hairston, who entered the season injured and as the backup right-back behind Harrison Afful, has emerged as a reliable center midfielder. Santos has also looked impressive as a left-back, and Kevin Molino is becoming the offensive weapon that precedes his reputation.
The last time Columbus lost three consecutive games was in 2019. Following that, the Black & Gold went unbeaten in 10 of their next 12 games. Given the talent that’s currently on the roster and players becoming more and more familiar with their roles, there’s no reason to think the Crew’s momentum can’t carry over because of a tough eight-day span.