When the full-time whistle sounded on Sunday afternoon in Orlando, Columbus Crew players slowly and quietly exited the field. All the club needed was a point to be back in the postseason. Instead, it lost, 2-1, to Orlando City SC after conceding a penalty in the final 10 minutes.
The Crew won the 2020 MLS Cup with many of the same players who played Sunday in Florida. Unfortunately, that group has been eliminated from the playoffs on Decision Day twice in the last two years.
That reality carried head coach Caleb Porter’s tone in the post-match press conference, as he spoke somberly and acknowledged that while everything gave everything they could, it just simply wasn’t enough.
“It’s horrible,” Porter said of missing the postseason. “I live, eat and breathe and sleep this job every single day. It’s a long season and there’s a lot of pressure. We didn’t lose a lot this year, but a lot of the draws felt like losses.
“There was a lot of frustration in those games this entire year and it was the same today. So, I do believe the game can be cruel, but I also believe in the long run, it’s fair. We obviously didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs because we couldn’t, today and in other games, make the plays we needed to make.”
Porter said Sunday’s Decision Day was a microcosm of the Crew’s 2022 campaign.
The Crew took a first-half lead in the 38th when Derrick Etienne Jr. and Lucas Zelarayán had a well-worked sequence that led to Etienne Jr. scoring his career-high ninth goal of 2022. That tally ties him with Juan “Cucho” Hernández for second-most for Columbus this season. Zelarayán led the Crew with 10 goals and 12 assists.
The Black & Gold allowed an equalizer in the 56th through Júnior Urso before Facundo Torres scored the game winner in the 84th minute from the penalty spot.
With that result, the Crew finished eighth in the Eastern Conference with 46 points from 34 games. Orlando wrapped up the seventh spot with 48 points following the result.
“I’m the head coach and I’m going to take the majority of the blame,” Porter said. “At the end of the day, the players no doubt gave a lot this year and they wanted to win. You can see they’re very disappointed and I feel for them. I also gave everything I have this year and I accept there were times where I could’ve been better myself.”
Porter said the Crew’s offseason would begin Sunday night, as the club begins moving forward and begins preparation for 2023. It’s certainly too early to make projections, but one thing Porter could speak to was expectations, and he said the expectations are too high for Columbus to fall short of the postseason.
“I’m just really sad for the players and the fans and the club as a whole,” Porter said. “We let everybody down and I do, again, accept responsibility for my part. It hurts. You know, I’ve won two MLS Cups but I’ve missed the playoffs two years in a row. That’s just not good enough and it’s not the standard we have in this club. It’s not the standard I have, either.
“It’s just too bad we missed it twice on the last day.”