2014 record: 14-10-10 (52 points); 52 GF / 42 GA (+10 GD)
“Breakout” was the word of the year for the 2014 Columbus Crew.
The team entered the season with inexperienced coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter in his first year in charge of an MLS club, owner Anthony Precourt in his first full year at the helm of the franchise and a team consisting of a combination of new acquisitions and previously underwhelming young talent who hadn’t realized their collective or individual potential.
But by the end of the season, the once-wayward club had a new, firm identity on – and off – the field, Berhalter was in the discussion for Coach of the Year, the likes of Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Steve Clark had become league-wide stars and the team was the third seed from the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup Playoffs. In the process they'd started to play some of the prettiest soccer in the league, a true modern style that emphasized possession and got the fullbacks way up the field into the attack.
Aesthetically, you'd could argue that nobody had a better season than the Crew, and even better was that the guy at the center of it all was Homegrown star Wil Trapp. The Crew Academy alum blossomed into one of the best d-mids in the league, controlling the shape of the game with pinpoint long-balls and gumming up the middle with a positional sophistication that belied his youth.
Despite a thrashing at the hands of the New England Revolution to end their season in the conference semifinals, there’s plenty of cause for excitement in Columbus as the club’s new era continues to unfold.
Best Moment of the Year
Down 0-2 in the 78th minute on the road against the Philadelphia Union on Oct. 11, the Crew were staring at a disappointing second straight defeat and an increasingly grim playoff picture.
Instead, the team found three goals in four minutes from Finlay, Justin Meram and Jairo Arrieta to knock the stunned Union out of playoff contention, put themselves in prime position and start a three-game winning streak to end their season.
Worst Moment of the Year
After a surprising and exciting 3-0-0 start, the Crew spent most of their summer floundering in mediocrity. Between April 5 and July 12, the club had just a 1-6-7 record, causing some to question the direction of the team and the decisions of Berhalter.
But by far the worst moment came in Harrison, N.J., against the Red Bulls on July 12, when the outgunned Crew were annihilated 4-1 in a match that saw Thierry Henry notch three assists and a goal and Crew captain Michael Parkhurst subbed out of the match in the 59th minute. It was a horrible moment for the Crew, but one they rebounded from after a closed-door team meeting a few days later.
Goal of the Year
“Pipa Chips” have become everyone’s favorite in Columbus. But they’re no salty snack; it’s the term used to describe the sight of playmaker and Designated Player Federico Higuain stunning a goalkeeper by popping a long shot over his head while he stumbles backward to no avail.
Higuain’s strike in the team’s May 17, 3-3 goal-fest against the Portland Timbers was no different. From nearly 30 yards out, Higuain chipped a floating shot over the usually excellent Donovan Ricketts and into the back corner of his net. Ricketts was barely off of his line, but the Argentinian made him pay.
While Higuain picked up another team MVP award from the club and Finlay had an astonishing season, it was Clark who single-handedly saved more points for the Crew than anyone else.
The goalkeeper went from virtual unknown to in the discussion for a USMNT call-up largely because of his massive collection of game-changing saves throughout the season. In the Crew’s high-pressing, aggressive style, Clark was hung out to dry on countless occasions and came up huge on more of them than anyone could have expected.
While the acquisition of Parkhurst didn’t “destroy the Internet” like the Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley moves, the US national team veteran was the move that set the tone for the Crew’s season and one that could ultimately be viewed as a bargain.
Tasked with the responsibility of replacing Columbus legend Chad Marshall and helping to demonstrate Berhalter’s possession-oriented, play-out-of-the-back style, Parkhurst not only stepped in as the team’s captain from the beginning of the season but also played some of the best soccer of his career in the center of the team’s defense. Honorable mention, of course, for the signing of Giancaro Gonzalez – who not only gave the Crew a good half-season, but turned into a nice chunk of change after a mid-summer transfer to Palermo in Italy's Serie A.
2014 Club by Club
Columbus Crew SC
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Sporting Kansas City
"I couldn't be more pleased with the impact that Gregg [Berhalter] has had on our organization. He's brought a level of professionalism that I just love... Obviously the playoff exit was disappointing; I think our inexperience showed. But I hope that will make us a more hardened and battle-ready team for next year." -- Precourt on his expectations for 2015
Three Offseason Needs
1. A Sniper: Bringing in Kei Kamara has helped to quiet some of the clamoring for a forward in Columbus, but Crew SC (as they'll be known in 2015) probably aren't done looking for a natural finisher. They only play one true striker at a time, but if they can find someone to push Kamara for the starting role and maintain Aaron Schoenfeld and Adam Bedell as depth, it will make a big difference. Especially if one of the bunch can finish the types of wide-open looks Columbus squandered vs. the Revs.
2. Defensive depth: After losing the versatile Josh Williams and Eric Gehrig in a matter of three days, Crew SC are left with a thin back line. Waylon Francis, Emanuel Pogatetz and Parkhurst are likely concrete starters, and Tyson Wahl can play either left-sided spot fairly well. But Columbus need at least a few more utility guys for cover, especially since they expect to be competing hard for the US Open Cup and want to play well into November's playoffs. The season is a long, arduous grind..
3. A game-changing right back: Thanks to former technical director Brian Bliss, the Crew may have one of the best left backs in the league in Francis. And when the Costa Rican was humming in Berhalter's fullback-centric attack, he made an astonishing impact. If they can replace the revolving door on the right side with another game-breaker, it will make Berhalter's style even stronger. Right now it's Chad Barson and Hector Jimenez, both of whom have had moments but neither of whom has made the position indisputably theirs.
-- This season recap by Andrew King originally ran on MLSsoccer.com on December 16, 2014