After Columbus Crew SC's 4-0 win over Hell is Real rivals FC Cincinnati in both teams' Group C opener at the MLS is Back Tournament, Crew coach Caleb Porter is pumping the brakes on the rising expectations for his new-look side, at least a little.
Yes, the Crew were impressive in a victory that was every bit as dominant as the score indicated. But they were also playing an opponent that was in its first competitive match under a new coach, Jaap Stam, and still just 16 turbulent months into life as an MLS team.
"The biggest thing I want to say is let’s not get ahead of ourselves here," Porter said during a conference call on Tuesday. "We won one game. It’s only one game, it’s three points. Whether it’s 4-0 or 1-0, I’m not underestimating my team, but also we’ll see how good we are in the upcoming games, because this game will definitely be a different type of test."
The next two matches represent a clear step up in class. In the New York Red Bulls on Thursday (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, TSN), Columbus face arguably the most consistent MLS team of the last decade, an organization that has reached every MLS postseason since 2012 and won three Supporters' Shields. After that? The 2018 MLS Cup champions and defending U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup champions Atlanta United.
This time, Porter objectively has one of the most talented Columbus rosters in some time at his disposal, focused around a midfield trio of Lucas Zelarayan, Artur and Darlington Nagbe. Both Zelarayan and Nagbe earned Team of the Week nods for their roles in the victory over Cincinnati, with Zelarayan contributing a free kick likely to be a goal-of-the-tournament candidate.
However, Porter concedes he may have to engage in some squad rotation to manage that trio's workload.
"They provide the engine room of our team on both sides of the ball," Porter said. "And yet we have to be really smart and careful on four days’ rest with how much these guys — they cover more ground than anyone and Artur and Nagbe were cramping after 70th minute, it’s because of how much ground they cover and because it’s their first in four months. So we really don’t want to have them play again and get injured but at the same time if we don’t play them then we’re not quite as strong and yet we do have some depth and we have to trust our depth."
Also factoring into that calculus will be the nature of the challenge Porter expects to see from the high-pressing Red Bulls.
"They’re difficult, they disrupt you," he said. "It’s going to be a different game than obviously Cincinnati, where they conceded a lot of possession, they dropped off, we had a lot of the ball. ... It’s going to be a very different type of game. They’re going to try to disrupt us, they’re going to try to make it about the duels, they’re going to want to play the game on their terms."