A 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City Sunday meant that the Columbus Crew haven't won since March, notching just three points in their last four matches after a 3-0-0 start.
But the reigning MLS Cup champs are no slouch, and Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter knows that the young Crew were simply outgunned.
“In all honesty, Kansas City is the better team right now,” Berhalter told reporters after the match. “We're not there yet.”
An 10th-minute goal from Kansas City's Jacob Peterson put the home team in control of the match early, and in what has become a trend for the Crew, a flat opening to the game forced them to chase the match for the rest of the way, before finding their footing in the second half.
“I think it's the way that we presented ourselves in the first half that I was disappointed in,” Berhalter said. “The second half we came out and we played. We played the way know how to play. It was a lot better, and for that I'm proud of the guys.”
And that positive second half may have been important for the Crew locker room. Forward Dominic Oduro, who came in as a substitute to start the second half, says the team might not be as far away from Kansas City as Berhalter thinks.
“We know we can play; we're a good team,” he said. “They're also a good team. But I think today they just outworked us a little bit. We've just got to go back and figure things out.”
Despite the loss, Berhalter isn't hitting the panic button just yet on a Crew squad that's still developing. And as Federico Higuain said Thursday, the progress of the Berhalter system is more important at this stage than the final score.
“At this stage we're looking at the performance,” Berhalter said. “That's what's most important to us. And I think the performances have been there, for the most part... We're still developing our team.
"And when I said Kansas City is the better team, that's right now. And we expect to get there. We're going to keep working and keep developing this group.”
There is one reason for Berhalter to panic, however. On short rest, the Crew will fly to Houston tomorrow and face a seasoned Dynamo team without its midfield general Wil Trapp. A rash challenge late in the match earned the 21-year-old his second yellow card of the day, and Berhalter didn't mince words about the challenge in replacing him.
“I don't think there's a like-for-like replacement in the whole league for Wil Trapp,” he said. “I think he's a good player. For his age, I think he's one of the better midfielders in the league. The short answer is, no. There's not a like-for-like replacement. We're going to look in our depth and we'll find someone who can perform.”