OBETZ, Ohio – When Columbus Crew SC beat Toronto FC 2-0 on the road last weekend, it was the club’s first shutout of an opponent since July 15 against the Chicago Fire.


The clean sheet seemed to be a sigh of relief for Crew SC, who have at times looked like one of the most dangerous teams in the league, only to give up a back-breaking goal in the final minutes.


For defender Gaston Sauro, the win provided a much-needed confidence boost before the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs begin.



“Game by game, your confidence builds up,” he said through a translator after Crew SC training. “I think for me, any time you have a turnout like we did in Toronto and a cohesiveness that’s coming about, not only [me], but the team feels more confident. Right now, it’s about being more comfortable as well. As the days progress, as the weeks progress and the games go on … I’m getting there, and I’m feeling very confident.”


Defense has been the talk of the club for months, as a team scoring the fourth-most goals in MLS has allowed more goals than any team in playoff position other than Toronto.


The problem had been clear by the summer, when head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter brought in Sauro, an Argentinian center back who had UEFA Champions League experience with Swiss club FC Basel.


Sauro’s name first appeared in the Crew SC lineup on Sept. 6 against FC Dallas, and fans were thrilled to see if their new signing could anchor a struggling defense. But just three minutes into the match, Sauro and midfielder Wil Trapp collided, yielding a concussion so severe that Berhalter said the team was concerned about a slight skull fracture.


“The frustration is massive,” Sauro said. “You’re prepping yourself as a player to play for the first time, and you’re out in three minutes. You work so hard and this happens, and it’s a big frustration and disappointment.”


Sauro would return nearly a month later in a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. And while his play was short of stellar, Berhalter said it was key to get him involved before the playoffs began.



“The Red Bulls game was a good starting point,” he said. “When you think about integrating new defenders in this league, it’s not easy. A lot of teams that have new defenders haven’t been that successful. Even Toronto, with [Ahmed] Kantari playing at times, and [New York’s Ronald] Zubar at times, hasn’t been great.


“So we know integrating new defenders is difficult. To get Gaston that game against Red Bull I think prepared him for Toronto. Now, we look to keep building on that.”


With one game remaining in the regular season, Sauro and Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst are working to develop a relationship that normally takes months to build. Parkhurst admitted it was a unique situation, but said the pair of veterans are working well on the fly.


“It’s important that we build that chemistry and that partnership extremely quickly … going into the playoffs,” Parkhurst said. “Ideally, you build that partnership in preseason and then have the entire season, but we’re condensing it. We’ve both been around a while and have experience.”


That experience may come in handy as Crew SC look to lock up a bye past the Knockout Round on Sunday against D.C. United (5 pm ET; FS1), who hold the second-place spot in the Eastern Conference that Columbus crave.