Columbus Crew SC are chasing history, attempting to become the fourth team in league history to win consecutive MLS Cups. But in doing so, they’re not living in the past.
To do so, coach Caleb Porter believes it’s important to make a distinction about his club this year.
“We’re not defending last year’s trophy. it’s a completely new trophy this year. We’re not the champs this year. We were the champs last year. You have to get that out of your head,” he said in a video conference call with reporters. "We won the championship, no one can take that way. That experience and confidence means we know how to do it again, but whether we do it again will depend on this year, nothing to do with us being the champs last year.”
Porter said his team knows what it takes to reach the top of the proverbial mountain, where he said “the air is thin.” But just because they navigated that path successfully a year ago, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed they get there again in 2021.
“We’re at the bottom of the mountain,” he said. “We’re resetting and we understand that path up is going to be a lot harder and maybe it’s not as smooth. But if you know that and attack the process of getting to the top again and you're ready for the challenges and ready to work and dig in, just like you did last year, then we have a chance to get back to the top again.”
Porter said having the same mindset, the same hunger in the title-chase a year ago is critical to avoid pitfalls of other teams that failed to repeat, that “little decay in the way you approach the season.”
In a league of parity, Porter said, that five percent less hunger against teams with added motivation against last year's champions is usually a recipe for failure.
Porter said there’s continuity among the large group of returning players, who understand the culture and what Porter expects as he enters his third year as head coach.
And then there's eight newcomers who provide “a little bit of tension to some extent because there's competition which is good, healthy. It brings an energy because you’ve got new guys wanting to learn,” he said.
Plus, those players weren’t on the podium last year lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.
“The nice thing too, I have to say, there are a bunch of new guys who haven’t won a championship and there's even a couple of guys who didn’t play in the final, a couple of guys who I think have a little hunger for different reasons,” he said. “We are motivated to do what a lot of teams can't do.”
The additions, including two-time Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips and winger Kevin Molino, who came off a career year with Minnesota United, are a clear sign of Columbus’ intent, according to goalkeeper Eloy Room.
“If you want to become a championship team, you have to compete every year and you need all the good players on your team and I think this is a sign also to other teams we're not satisfied with only one title,” he said. "We want to win it every year.”
Porter believes his roster, at least for the 2021 season, “is set.” The Crew's search for players will largely be focused on the club’s future.
“We’re still looking for some young, exciting players,” Porter said. “We love our group and the blend of youth and experience, but … making sure we have some young guys that would address a little bit the succession planning for the future.”
“He must be drinking from the fountain of youth because he never looks like he's getting old and losing his step. He’s a guy that takes care of himself,” Porter said of Afful, who will turn 35 midway through the season. "But also we do understand eventually we’re going to need to succeed him. We felt until we find that right person, we just need someone able to cover him and be steady. We think in theory with the way we play it would really suit Marlon Hairston.”