With three games to go in the 2019 MLS Season and the cup playoffs already out of reach, the Vancouver Whitecaps are essentially playing for pride and any devilish hand-wringing that can come from ruining the Columbus Crew’s chances for the cup.
Standings-wise, the Crew are in a similar position as that of the Whitecaps, looking up at ten or so teams in the standings late in the season, trying to figure out where things went wrong while exacting the best way to reconcile the b.s. we’ve respectively waded through before the 2020 season hits us square in the gob.
But for Columbus, what’s truly odd is how, after suffering through separate losing streaks (as opposed to winless streaks, where points from draws still count) of 5, 3, and 5 games, the Crew still have a chance of making the MLS Cup playoffs.
I mean, they’re in 11th and 6 points out with one less game to play than 7th-place New England, so it’s a slim chance, but it’s still a chance, dammit! I’d take that any day as opposed to being eliminated in August.
That, and with a goal differential of -9 (as opposed to our -22), you could argue that the club was only a few bad breaks away from qualifying for the first round of the cup.
Nevertheless, there’s still a game to play and Patrick Murphy over at Massive Report was kind of enough to answer a few of the questions we threw at him to address what the 2019 season has been like for the Crew.
Like the Whitecaps, Columbus has gone through some difficult stretches in 2019, but less so recently as the club is 4-2-4 in their last ten matches. What’s changed for the Crew as of late?
The team got healthier and Caleb Porter got more of his type of players on the roster is the simple answer.
The Crew went through a torrid run of injuries throughout the year. There are the notable names like Federico Higuain, but the team is currently playing Connor Maloney, a former forward at Penn State, at left back, a position I don’t think anyone thought he would play. The run of one win in 16 games in the summer, which essentially doomed the Black & Gold, featured makeshift lineups each week with players out with either injuries or national team call-ups.
With that said, I think the transition from Gregg Berhalter to Caleb Porter was more difficult than many expected. The two coaches play a similar style, so the thought was things would go over seamlessly, but they are very different coaches when it comes to the day to day and managing players. Porter needed to get guys that fit with how he did things and convert others to believe in what he does, instead of comparing everything to Berhalter. Once that started to happen (around the end summer transfer window), the results started to turn.
With the Crew having now taken 6 of 6 points against Atlanta this season, it’s clear Columbus can hang with the big clubs ...at times. Where would you focus your attention to have the club maintain that level of play?
It’s interesting, the Crew has traditionally done well against some of the bigger clubs in MLS, at least when it mattered. Berhalter was great at getting his teams playing its best soccer late in the season, which meant beating the likes of Atlanta (2017), the New York Red Bulls (2015), etc., in the playoffs.
Now winning in the regular season is different, and I think that’s your point. Berhalter did it from time to time, but Porter is more about winning every game. I do think going forward, with Porter leading the way and the new ownership group that took over this year willing to spend more money, this team will compete with those teams and you saw that some this year, even if it was in a close loss.
Again reflecting on the improved form towards the end of the season, what players do you see as essential to be brought back in 2020? What kind of player does the club need to bring in for next season? Any names you can think of?
Players that I think have to be back next year are Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful, Milton Valenzuela (who missed all of 2019), Hector Jimenez, Wil Trapp, Luis Diaz (who came in this summer), Pedro Santos, and Gyasi Zardes.
You can throw in some young players as well that are still developing, such as Aboubacar Keita and Luis Argudo who have performed well this year. Beyond that, the Crew needs another center back, a central midfielder and likely a No. 10 (even if Higuain comes back from a torn ACL at 35, it’s time to find a successor) in my mind.
It’s hard to come up with names because MLS scouting goes to places I don’t follow but I do know the team is on the look for more talent and hoping to add from the top at each position with an eye on really turning things around in 2020.