The Columbus Crew added another chapter to their season-long saga on Wednesday in a 3-0 loss at Philadelphia with the all-too-familiar storyline of leading in every statistical category, save for goals.
While the final score indicated a goal, or even two, would not have made a difference, the fact is an early strike might have changed the outcome.
"It's very frustrating," Crew defender Eric Gehrig said after the Union scored three times between the 25th and 31st minutes. "I thought we started well then it went south pretty quickly. I don’t think it was a 3-0 game, but it happens."
But that's nothing unusual. The Crew outshot the Union 19-11 but as Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum noted afterward, the numbers don't reflect the lack of quality scoring chances.
In the past six games, in which the team is 1-3-2, it has outshot opponents 100-56 but been outscored 9-4 and shut out three times.
"For whatever reason, we’re not as dangerous as we know we can be," Gruenebaum said. "We have to fix that. We have the players to do that. It's a matter of getting it done."
Just who will step up is open to debate. Eddie Gaven and Jairo Arrieta led the team with nine goals apiece last year but have combined for just one. To make matters worse, Gaven is now out for the season with a knee injury, while Arrieta has been an inconsistent threat because of national team duties and suspensions.
Remarkably, Oduro is the only player to score during the run of play in the past 10 MLS games, with five total goals on the season. The other scorers have been Higuaín (three penalties) and Josh Williams (from a corner kick).
When the offense struggles, the defense usually gives Columbus a fighting chance, but there was a complete collapse against the Union this time around. Head coach Robert Warzycha signaled his dissatisfaction with the left side of the field by replacing midfielder Ben Speas and defender Tyson Wahl at halftime.
"The guys on the flank weren't helping defensively," Warzycha said. "They spent more time picking up the offense."
The loss leaves the Crew seventh in the Eastern Conference, five points out of the playoffs. The good news, though, is that there are 20 matches left, beginning with a June 15 home game against the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Impact.
But the remaining games on the Crew's schedule are no guarantee, simply an opportunity; to avoid a second straight playoff miss, they will have to turn all those chances into something more tangible – goals, and by extension, points.