Gregg Berhalter
Crew SC Communications

Crew technical staff has plenty of MLS Cup Playoff experience to draw from

Sure, winger Hector Jimenez may be the only player on the Crew roster with an MLS Cup to his name, having won two early in his career with the LA Galaxy.

While Jimenez can surely lend his experience to his teammates, the Black & Gold's technical staff consisting of former MLS standouts Gregg Berhalter, Pat Onstad and Josh Wolff have all been there before as well. Between the three coaches, five MLS Cups are shared form their playing careers. Berhalter won his only MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy in 2011 during his final season as a pro, while Wolff won a Cup in his rookie campaign with the Chicago Fire in 1998. Onstad's resume includes the 2003 MLS Cup with the San Jose Earthquakes and back-to-back Cup wins with the Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007. 

Though each of the coaches' MLS Cup playing experiences vary, the goal remains the same in leading the Crew this season: deliver MLS Cup to Columbus.

What does it take to march through the MLS Cup Playoffs to the Final, according to three former MLS Cup champions?

"It’s playing a 180-minute game [in the Eastern Conference Semifinal], and winning that first," Wolff said. "That's what you focus on. The importance of that is that each minute matters, each play matters. You can’t overemphasize it — it’s cliche as a coach, but every little play and every little detail needs to be monitored and done in the right way. You can’t really win this series in the first five or ten minutes, but you can put yourself in a bad spot. We’ve got to be focused and tuned-in, preach to these guys that it’s literally 180 minutes and we’ve got to do our job from minute one to minute 185 if that’s what it takes."

Echoed Onstad: "Throughout the whole process, you have to realize that every play matters. Every minute, every moment matters on the field. You have to be focused. When things don’t go your way, you can’t get too down. At the same token, when things do go your way and are going well, you can’t get too high. It’s a 180-minute match."

Known for his meticulous attention to detail as the club's Sporting Director and Head Coach, Berhalter knows -- as Onstad and Wolff stated -- "Every moment matters." However, despite the increased importance of playing in the MLS Cup Playoffs with a two-legged Eastern Conference Semifinal and Final, Berhalter maintains that his team will do as its done all season and take its style of play to its opponent. 

"We talk about consequences, talk about detail, talk about doing the small things right," Berhalter explained. "If you have a chance to score another goal, you take it. You go after it. Conversely, when you’re up 1-0, you really have to be careful not to give up a goal when you’re at home because the away goals mean more.

"There is the psychology of [the two-legged playoff nature], but we still want to go out and execute our gameplan. I think that’s what’s most important."

With all three coaches winning MLS Cup during different stages of their careers, one theme remains constant through their Cup-winning sides: team chemistry. 

Already a close-knit group, the coaches believe the spirit in the Crew locker room will go a long way in the Black & Gold's quest for MLS Cup. Berhalter credits the leadership of Captain Michael Parkhurst as a major factor in the team's bond on and off the field.

"This is a very close team," said Berhalter. "It’s guys that have been working with each other for a while. I felt we really developed as a team this year, the team cohesion side of it. That’s great to see."

He continued: "Michael is a really likable guy. He’s really a really easy-going guy. He’s a guy that does his work on the field and let’s his play speak for itself. He’s been phenomenal this year… As crazy as it seems — he was an All-Star, but I still think he’s underrated for the impact he’s had on the team’s performance. He’s been great. He’s been a good leader."

While Parkhurst's leadership has been impactful, sometimes it's adversity that brings a team together the most. During a stretch that included just one win in 16 matches during the summer, the postseason seemed more like fantasy for the Crew. Instead of hanging heads, the team came together to win ten of its final 15 matches. 

The momentum of that late regular-season run could be just what the Crew needs going into Saturday's first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the New England Revolution. 

"Sometimes you face some adversity as a crew — no pun intended," Onstad explained. "But I think [locker room chemistry] makes a big difference. I think we’ve had a few games here down the stretch that have been turning points to really rally the whole group.

"It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, but the 30 guys in the locker room."

 


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