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Looking at Columbus Crew SC's hot start in historical context

Caleb Porter is aware of all the hype surrounding Columbus Crew SC, but the coach says he's doing his best to block out the outside noise as his team tries to maintain its current perch atop the Supporters' Shield standings.

"We don't think about narratives, that's for you guys to talk about," Porter told reporters on a Thursday video call. "We don't think about external standards either. We think about our process, we think about our internal motivations and goals, and that's it. We lock everything else out and focus on our goals and focus on improving and we focus on the next game. We're very humble, we're very objective with where we're at, I've said it all along. We know where we want to be at the end of the year — that vision is there — but we don't look past the next game either."

Porter is right: Talking about narratives is our job. So, with the Crew currently sporting a blistering 7-1-2 record that has them at a clip of 2.3 points per game, it's worth considering exactly where the hot start has them in terms of the best starts in league history. For context, LAFC took 2.12 points per game during their 2019 season that was arguably the greatest single-season campaign ever in MLS.

It remains to be seen if the Crew can keep that pace up over the course of the rest of the season, starting with Saturday afternoon's nationally-televised clash against the Chicago Fire (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). They're currently in some good company, though. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, their 23 points currently have them tied for the sixth-most points through the opening 10 games of a season (the 1996 LA Galaxy hold the top mark at 28). The 2010 Galaxy are joined by the 2000 Kansas City Wizards on 26, and the 1998 Galaxy and the 2001 Miami Fusion are next at 25. 

In terms of goal differential, the Columbus's +14 is tied for third-best after 10 games, also per Elias. LAFC was +18 last year, and the 2000 Wizards were +17. More recently, the New York Red Bulls were also +14 after 10 games in 2018.

Extratime: Are the Crew for real?

When it comes to the 2020 Crew, their most impressive statistical feat might be their defense. Through 10 games, Columbus have remarkably conceded just two goals, and are currently on a shutout streak that has now topped 300 minutes following their 3-0 victory over FC Cincinnati on Sunday. LAFC's ridiculous +48 goal differential last year might not be an attainable feat, but those are eye-popping stats nonetheless, which Porter said can be attributed to his players buying into the philosophy of being on the front foot in the attack and high-pressing, which has a ripple effect on the other side of the ball.

"I think we do everything as a team," Porter said. "We defend as a team, we attack as a team. When you look at our group, I've watched a lot of the other games as well, and I think what sets us apart is we have a true team concept. We have every single player that defends, and they know their role defensively. We don't drop off, we press high, and we're aggressive, which is why we don't give up goals. It's not because we drop in and play a low block and try to protect our goal, it's because we attack the opponent right off the ball, and we do it with every single player. So, that's the key.

"I think the byproduct of being aggressive and being an attack-oriented team, with and without the ball, means that we don't defend much and we don't give away many chances. And we have a lot of the ball, 50 percent of the game or more, so that means 50 percent or more of the game you're not defending. And the rest of the time we're defending high, which means the opponent has to go through 11 guys and 80 yards. So the philosophy of attacking means that we're always going to have balance and be a good defensive team, but we're not doing it by nature, we're doing it because we're trying to attack and score goals."

The scary thing, Porter said, is that there's still plenty of room to improve. While the Crew have looked 2019-LAFC levels of dominant during stretches, they have yet to do so over the course of a full 90 minutes, let alone a sustained stretch of games. In Porter's mind that means the best is yet to come from what to this point has been the league's best team in 2020.

"There are teams that I think have probably some better talent across the board, but we like to pride ourselves on being the best team. We know that to a man, we need effort," he said. "We haven't played in my opinion, nowhere near our best game. We've had some periods of play in games that you can say, 'OK, that 20 minutes, that was what we need to clone for the next 70.' But I'm always looking for the perfect game and we haven't come close to that. So I think that's the goal, is to just keep improving."

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