COLUMBUS, Ohio—The defending MLS Eastern Conference champions are still searching for points.
Columbus Crew SC suffered their second 2-1 loss in two 2016 matches on Saturday, this time at home at the hands of the Philadelphia Union.
But after the match, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter refused to blame the loss on complacency or an MLS Cup hangover. He said his team didn’t execute its plan, including in a second half that “went haywire.” But he kept expectations high.
He referenced the rest of the Saturday slate – with upsets from the Houston Dynamo, Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake – to highlight the unpredictability of MLS, but said his club “didn’t deserve to win” when playing how it did.
“This is a tough league,” he said. “You guys see the results today? You see what’s happening in this league? You can’t predict any results right now.”
Finishing was a clear problem for Columbus. The club took 19 shots, but put only seven on target and rarely troubled Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. Without an 87th-minute header from Kei Kamara, Crew SC would have come away empty-handed on the scoreboard.
But after the match, it wasn’t the poor finishing that troubled Berhalter and the Columbus players. Instead, they referenced the mental side of the game.
“It starts with us wanting to compete,” said winger Ethan Finlay. “That comes from within, and that’s where it has to start. We all know what our responsibilities are and our jobs, but first and foremost, we have to be willing to do the work.”
Berhalter said it was a mental breakdown that led Chris Pontius' stoppage-time goal at the end of the first half.
“At the end of the day it’s not the worst half if you don’t give up that goal,” he said. “I think giving up that goal, it hurt. I didn’t feel like we should have been a goal down. To me, it’s a concentration issue, and that’s disappointing.”
With no points from their first two matches and a three-game road stretch in Chicago, Dallas and Montreal on the docket, Crew SC know the beginning of the season has become more of a challenge than expected. But defender and captain Michael Parkhurst insists the team is ready to take it on.
“We don’t view three upcoming road games as, ‘We’re in a real bad spot,’” he said. “We think we’re capable of winning every game that we play, so I’m fully confident we’ll turn things around.”