OBETZ, Ohio – At the beginning of the 2015 MLS season, Columbus Crew SC looked incapable of winning on the road.
It took the club until July to find their first win, a 1-0, grinding victory over the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. Since that win, they've notched four wins in five road trips and seen their mindset shift.
Crew SC expect three points away from home, their next opportunity to do so coming when they travel to the nation's capital to take-on Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United on Saturday night (7 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
“We’re a confident group; we expect to win,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “We got the monkey off of our back and we put together some good games. Now we’re able to bring the energy that we brought to home games on the road. For a while, we weren’t doing that. We weren’t bringing the same mentality.”
Head coach Gregg Berhalter disagrees. He reviewed game tape of the early struggles away from home and found positives. Now, he said, things have simply been falling into place, including avoiding early deficits.
“When you’re down on the road – and you’re down both in score and in personnel – it makes it much more difficult,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case in these last few games. … So I think that has something to do with it, and keeping 11 men on the field have to do with it.”
For Justin Meram, the team’s road struggles were simply a symptom of their struggles with teams playing them defensively. Now, he says, the club has found ways to counter those schemes.
“Teams plan to play us differently than we plan to play other teams,” he said. “We go out and we play our game. In the beginning, maybe teams saw us from the year before, so the beginning stretch was different. They were doing things to us that we couldn’t figure out or we weren’t patient enough.
“This year, teams are going to pack it in; they’re going to high press. Now, we’re far enough in the season that we know how to adjust within the game, and I think that’s what’s helped us.”
Parkhurst says there wasn’t a turning point this season. The group “collectively dug our heels in."
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In the midst of a hot streak away from home – and one of the league’s best late-summer records – the club now has its sights set on the top of the conference.
“The best case scenario is we win the East and put ourselves in the best position possible, come playoff time,” Parkhurst said. “I think that’s within our grasp. But we’re taking it game-by-game. A lot of teams at the top of the East are winning games right now…so things change quickly.
“We’ve got five games. If we can win three or four, we think we’ll put ourselves in a good position to be at the top. I think it’s critical to avoid that midweek game in the playoffs, so that’s our goal.”