Columbus Crew's Caleb Porter: Adrian Heath can't hide Minnesota United's talent

Caleb Porter - masked presser 2 - MLS is Back

Columbus Crew SC manager Caleb Porter says he knows Adrian Heath too well to fall into the trap of believing the Minnesota United boss' remarks in the media. 

That includes Heath's recent accusation that the public has already fully leaped upon the Crew bandwagon and claim that Porter's side are clear favorites to roll past Minnesota on Tuesday night (8 pm ET | ESPN/Deportes, TSN) in the Round of 16 and win the MLS is Back Tournament. “Well, we probably won't turn up because everybody's crowned [the Crew] champions already. So we'll give it to them,” Heath said after officially advancing.

In fact, Porter says, when you look at the entirety of the numbers their respective clubs have posted so far, it's impossible not to acknowledge the Loons as one of the league's best teams and a favorite in their own right.

"He likes to sandbag his team a little bit and take the attention off them and put it on the other team," Porter said of Heath. "The problem with that is everybody knows they have a good team. If you look at their record, they’re now unbeaten on the year. If you look at where they’re at in the Supporters’ Shield, they’re third-best in the league. So everybody knows they’re a good team. This is the best team we’ve played so far this season."

Of course, Porter's Crew are atop those same standings with 13 points out of five league matches, two points in front of the Loons.

How Crew finished top in Group E:

In particular, their perfect performance in Group A, complete with wins over the perennially contending New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United, has made Columbus a bit of a trendy pick as a team that could supplant LAFC both in this tournament and continuing in the Shield race when the 2020 MLS regular season resumes.

By contrast, Minnesota completed Group D with a pair of draws after their miracle fightback against Sporting Kansas City in an opener that turned after SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia was sent off.

"I think it’s one of those things that I only read see and feel what’s out there," Heath said. "I haven’t read anything or heard anybody say they don’t think that Columbus has been the most impressive team since they’ve been here. I’m fully aware that we haven’t played as well as we can. So, if you just look at it logically, people would presume that they’re the favorites and we’re the underdog. But I don’t go along with that type of stuff with our guys, they’ll tell you that I’m always really, really positive."

Despite a much improved roster that includes Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe,  Porter says such chatter about his club is a bridge too far after the Crew finished third-from-bottom in the Eastern Conference in 2019.

"We’re evolving as a club," Porter said. "Our goal right now is to be the best team at the end of this tournament and certainly the best team at the end of the regular season and the playoffs, once we start back up. That’s it. That’s all we’re focused on. We don’t think about anything else. We’re flattered when people talk highly about us, but that doesn’t dictate how we feel about ourselves."

What would change how the club feels, Porter says, would be some silverware and a Concacaf Champions League berth for their efforts.

"The club hasn’t been in CCL for 10 years," Porter said. "They’re hungry for that. They understand there’s prize money and they understand there’s a trophy. Good clubs, it doesn’t matter what the trophy is, you put it in the trophy case. You’ve got to put things in the trophy case. And this club hasn’t done that enough in the last 10 years.

"We’re mindful of that. We’re humble with that as well. But of course the players, myself, we want to leave a legacy here where we’re putting trophies in the trophy case. So any trophy, we’re going to go for it."