COLUMBUS, Ohio – For perhaps the first time under Gregg Berhalter, the Columbus Crew SC defense is becoming the star of the show.
With Saturday’s 3-0 domination of the Chicago Fire, Columbus have earned three straight shutouts for the first time since 2011, well before Berhalter’s time with the club. While the Crew SC boss has always preached a flowing style and an aggressive attack, he said he’s been thrilled by the way his team has bought into defending this season.
“I think that the group has gotten to a place where they understand defending is about 11 guys, and that’s the most important thing,” Berhalter said after the win. “It’s not about the back four and the goalkeeper. It’s not about the midfielders added in. It’s all 11 players. When we defend as a group, we do a great job, and we make it very difficult for the opponent.”
The three clean sheets came in just an eight-day period, a stretch in which Columbus used three different lineups and different variations to earn seven points. In their scoreless draw with Seattle to start the stretch, they even played down a man for a full 75 minutes.
To get those results, fullback Hector Jimenez said the defensive work starts with the team’s forwards and “trickles down all the way back” to goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
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“We didn’t expect to have three shutouts, but it’s a credit to everyone,” said Jimenez.
Steffen said he and his teammates have learned from “failures and goals and mistakes,” and credited high work rate and improved mental toughness for the turnaround.
“We’ve learned a lot from failures and goals and mistakes,” he said. “Our mentality has grown and has become stronger and smarter in different situations. We’re playing well and the guys in front of us are scoring goals. So as long as we do our job and they do their job, we’ll be all right.”
Despite the important week, Berhalter isn’t willing to say just how good his team is. He said it’s not “an important question,” and instead thinks the most important thing is whether his team “can keep improving.”
“I’m proud of the guys,” he said. “You don’t expect that going into a week. And to win games, you’re not so sure about if you’re going to let up a goal or not, but I think it shows a lot how this group has improved. But we’re going to keep going and keep trying to get even better.”