Caleb Porter has never been one to shy away from making his opinion heard, and such was again the case after his Columbus Crew SC side dropped a 3-0 result to Los Angeles Football Club on Saturday night.
Except the head coach didn't stir up controversy. Rather, he heaped praise on Bob Bradley’s project at LAFC, likening the team’s dominance in 2019 to how Manchester City is running rampant in England’s Premier League. The Black-and-Gold are currently atop the Supporters’ Shield race with 27 points (8-1-3 record) and star forward Carlos Vela has a league-leading 12 goals.
“In my opinion, in watching all the games and all the teams, they’re the Man[chester] City of MLS,” Porter said. “The budget, the talent, the way they play, that’s the best team in the league. And as I’m standing there at 1-0, I’m looking at my team and my feeling was that I was proud of them for how they played, everything they gave.”
It’s a lofty analogy from Porter, as Pep Guardiola’s team can win its second straight EPL title on Sunday if they outlast Liverpool on the final match day of 2018-19. The Sky Blues, parent club of MLS side New York City FC, also have enough international superstars to fill two XIs.
But there’s also a clear sense of how Manchester City play week in and week out, much like LAFC entertains. Bradley talks about instituting his version of “good football,” and the second-year club is certainly trending towards that and more.
“My feeling was so positive and as I watched my team go toe-to-toe with the Man[chester] City of MLS, I couldn’t help but think ‘this is incredible,’” Porter said.
The 3-0 result comes with some important asterisks, Porter said. Mark-Anthony Kaye grabbed the opener in the 37th minute, and the game was within reach from there on out. Columbus, playing their third game in eight days, tapped into those extra energy reserves and then Adama Diomande and Vela added strikes beyond the 85th minute to push it to 3-0.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen and outside back Waylon Francis were also out due to injury, with Josh Williams pushed from his normal center back position to outside back. Porter said Williams hasn’t played there in several seasons.
“If Pedro [Santos] scores that goal [in the 59th minute], it’s 1-1 – it’s a different game,” Porter said. “Tough part is, it ends 3-0 and with another seven minutes of the game we give up two goals and everybody leaves the stadium thinking we were crap and we weren’t. So, I’m proud of my group.”
But like against any top-level team, mistakes prove costly. Opponents have to strive for near perfection to defeat a club of Manchester City’s caliber, with the margin of error incredibly slim.
Porter recognized as much, stressing his group still has a ways to go – and not just against the LAFCs of the world. They've lost six of their past seven games.
“I don’t care what anybody says, I know how they played, I know what they gave and yet, I did tell them it’s time for us to stop giving up cheap goals because that second goal – that’s the fourth or fifth time that has happened and that’s unacceptable at this level,” Porter said. “We have to finish those chances that we get, and those are the things that I can’t solve, they have to solve. They’re the ones in those moments to make those plays and we need to stop giving up cheap goals and we need to start finishing.”