The Columbus Crew have just one point from a possible nine in October. What is the cause of this poor run of form and can it be fixed by the weekend to save the season?
The month of October has not been kind to the Columbus Crew, coming away with only one point from the last three matches. Now that the club has likely been saved off the field, Sunday’s Minnesota United match is a chance to save the club on the field. But what is the cause of these recent struggles that threaten to derail an otherwise excellent season?
The team’s most obvious shortcoming has been no secret for much of the year: Columbus Crew struggles to produce goals. They have scored the second fewest number of goals in all of MLS this season with 40.
The team’s reliance on Federico Higuain and Gyasi Zardes to score goals has now become an issue that could quite possibly prevent the team from reaching the MLS Cup playoffs, despite boasting one of the best defensive records in the league with just 43 goals conceded.
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To an extent, the offense’s lack of productivity shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone. Last winter, Columbus lost 35 of it’s 53 goals with the departure of Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and Kekuta Manneh.
The team were able to fill the striker void with Zardes, who has 16 goals on the season and has slotted in well in place of Kamara. But the more prominent weakness arose out wide. Pedro Santos was expected to play a larger role with Meram’s departure. On the other wing, Gregg Berhalter elected to go with a younger contingent of players such as Niko Hansen, Cristian Martinez and Luis Argudo. Unfortunately, this has not paid off as he would have hoped.
A total of six goals has come from the wings this year, three from Hansen and one from Grella, Santos and Meram respectively. This goal-scoring production from the position group is down from 19 in 2017, 13 in 2016 and 19 in 2015.
Assists from the position group have also been an issue. This year’s group only has 13 assists, with seven of them coming from Pedro Santo. No other winger has more than two. When you compare it to years’ past, such as 18 in 2015, 22 in 2016 and 15 in 2017, it’s no secret what the Achilles heel of this team is.
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The loss of Ethan Finlay in 2017 and the loss of Meram in 2018, in hindsight, were blows to the Crew wings that the club hasn’t been able to fully recover from, whether it be because of signings such as Santos not filling in as expected or choosing to not replace Meram in the transfer market.
The Crew plays a style that relies on its outside players to create offense. The group of players this year just hasn’t been able to do that consistently. With Meram now back in the squad, Berhalter and his staff have to figure out how to reinvigorate the group and get them clicking on all cylinders.
On Sunday, the Crew can clinch the final Eastern Conference spot in the MLS playoffs. But they may need some production from out wide to do so, something that has been lacking October. The Crew may be saved off the field, but on it, there is still work to be done.