COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a promising 3-1-3 start, the Columbus Crew have lost three matches in seven days, failed to score a goal in 321 minutes and plummeted from the top of the Eastern Conference to the bottom half.
Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps capped the disappointing week, and after those three games, head coach Gregg Berhalter says "extreme fatigue" contributed to the loss.
"The guys were running on fumes," Berhalter told reporters after the match. "You could see the difference, it was clear. Vancouver had a bunch of players that were fresh running around and we didn't have it, physically ... but the guys gave everything they had, and unfortunately that just wasn't enough today."
Berhalter said losses are always disappointing, but blamed himself for naming a largely unchanged starting 11 from the Crew's midweek loss in Houston.
"If I'm critical of anything, it might be my team selection, of not rotating more guys and getting some fresh legs in there," he said. "To me, that was clearly the difference. [The Whitecaps] were just more physical and were able to run more."
At Crew training Friday, Berhalter said he and the Columbus coaching staff would be having one-on-one conversations with players to gauge whether many could play three full 90-minute games in a week. After Saturday's loss, he admitted that the players may not be the best judges.
"You rarely get players that are going to tell you, 'No coach, I'm not ready,'" he laughed. "We tried to have serious conversations. But guys wanted to play. They wanted to make up for the game in Houston, and unfortunately they didn't have it, physically, to be able to do that."
While Berhalter was willing to give his team the benefit of the doubt, the Crew players weren't blaming the loss on fatigue.
"Yeah [we were tired], but regardless, that's not an excuse for us losing," forward Dominic Oduro said. "We take responsibility that once you step out there in the starting 11, you have to perform."
Crew captain Michael Parkhurst, known for his cerebral play, said the way to beat the heavy legs is to play smarter.
"Of course it's difficult, but we've all played three games in a week before, and that's not an excuse," he said. "The ball is the fastest one out there, and we just didn't move it fast enough tonight."
And while the Crew found last-minute heroics twice near the beginning of the season, the bounces have not gone their way in their recent winless stretch. Parkhurst said Erik Hurtado's golazo Saturday was no different.
"In the end, [Hurtado] hits a miracle shot with his left foot into the corner, of course," Parkhurst said. "That's just the way it's going for us right now. Not to say that we deserved anything from the game, but when things are going the way they're going right now, that ball goes in the upper corner. And when we're winning and on a roll, he flubs it into [goalkeeper] Steve [Clark]."