They were, arguably, the league's most fun team to watch in 2015. They had an MVP candidate, a breakthough USMNT winger, veteran defenders, and a 5-man midfield that had been playing together for years and basically shared a brain.
They had a smart young coach and a goalkeeper with the flair for the dramatic. They had a defined style of play and identity. They had an MLS Cup appearance, and they had pretty much everybody of note from that team returning.
And for Columbus Crew SC, that is where the good news ends. The start of their 2016 season has been nightmare after nightmare, with the latest coming on Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field when Jordan Morris's late goal gave the Sounders a 1-0 win. This was yet another very winnable game for Columbus that got away from them.
How and why did it get away? The problem wasn't the defense:
Credit to Greg Berhalter for changing a few things up over the last couple of weeks. Columbus are more effective attacking up the middle and have cut down on their crossing – adjusting their identity rather than abandoning it.
But if there's one image that sums up this season, it's of Kei Kamara, in space, arms spread wide, wondering why he's not getting any service. None of Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay or Justin Meram have been all that sharp this year, and what makes it worse is that the deep-central midfield has been a mess. That's made it harder for the fullbacks to overlap... and that's how you get 2015's best No. 9 looking like an afterthought in 2016.
Three things to note:
- A 1-0 road loss is, on its own, not the end of the world
- They have a home-heavy schedule coming up, with five of the next seven at MAPFRE Stadium
- Columbus were just 4-6-5 in their first 15 games last year, so they know how to pull out of a slow start
I don't think anybody's panicking, and I don't necessarily think any alarms have been sounded (even though their expected goals numbers are mediocre so far). Crew SC's problems are fixable, and their successes tend to be repeatable – Finlay continues to find space; Meram remains dangerous when he comes inside; the Tony Tchani/Wil Trapp combination was good in central midfield today. That's all stuff they know how to do.
So they now need to start doing it.