COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the Crew want to prove the theory that defense wins championships they first must improve their offense. It they don’t, they may not make the playoffs.
After leaking 12 goals in three games to start the current 0-4-1 streak, Columbus have now lost consecutive 1-0 games — as well as the lead they held in the Eastern Conference for two months.
In theory, the Crew (11-11-8, 41 points) might somehow squeeze into the playoffs with scoreless draws in their final four matches, beginning Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), but the better plan is to find a way across the goal line.
Columbus and SKC both are a point behind first-place Houston, but only two points above the final qualifying spot.
“There’s some luck involved, but we have to be sharper in front of the net,” midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo said.
That’s been a season-long source of frustration. The Crew do a good job of managing the ball, rank seventh in shots and eighth in shots on goal, yet their 35 goals (1.17 per game) are 14th.
“We need to get something going,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said.
Coach Robert Warzycha has employed various players and formations to compensate for injuries to midfielder Eddie Gaven — out since Aug. 5 with a leg contusion — and forward Emilio Rentería, who returned Saturday after missing two games with a concussion, was the lone bright spot in the loss to the LA Galaxy.
The Crew started in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Dilly Duka playing behind forward Andrés Mendoza with little success.
“We tried to kick the ball, tried to play touch and defend both sides, but it wasn’t working out,” Ekpo said. “The second half, it all changed when we made the sub and had two attackers.”
Rentería’s entrance in the 65th minute sparked a resurgence, as Columbus had eight of their 15 shots and five of the eight on target over the final 20 minutes.
“We knew what way LA was going to play, so we overloaded the midfield to see if we were going to possess the ball,” Warzycha said. “Obviously, they had possession in the first half [58.9 percent]. That’s why we switched it a little bit in the second half and we were more successful.”
Warzycha put Rentería up top while Mendoza returned to a withdrawn position. Rentería is less concerned about his role than being healthy again.
“Every time I go in I try to help my teammates score or score myself and give everything that I can,” the Venezuelan said.
Rentería — whose six goals in 14 games is second on the team to Mendoza’s 11 — might provide the spark to get the Crew out of their tailspin, but Warzycha must decide if his bullish forward is fit enough for possibly 60 minutes from the start or to bring him off the bench.
“The beginning of the games is usually a wash,” Warzycha said. “Maybe it’s better to hold him back and put him on the field when players already have 45 minutes on their legs.”