It hasn’t been a good few weeks for the Crew. They’ve been losing games we wouldn’t have expected the reigning MLS Cup champions to drop heading into the season. Their star players haven’t hit anywhere near top form on a consistent basis, and so Crew fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst as their team prepared to face the best team in the league.
Instead, they got an inspired performance from their goalkeeper and grabbed a point that could well serve as the catalyst they need to spark a late-season push for the playoffs.
As things stand, Columbus are still on the outside looking in and will likely need some help from other teams if they're to ensure that their season is prolonged. For my money, they need to win at least five of their remaining eight games for that to happen.
We often think of attacking players first when thinking of match-winners or game-changers, and understandably so. But Eloy Room just reminded us of the value of a good goalkeeper. New England had 33 shots, with seven on target, and carried the lion’s share of possession.
Despite struggling with an injury, Room pulled off three saves down the stretch to fend off the Revs and secure a point for Columbus. It was the kind of performance that can galvanize a locker room and inspire others to step up and do their part. When you see a teammate fight through pain and adversity for the greater good of the team, and also step up with a heroic performance, it can really rally the group and bring everyone together.
I’ve been on teams where that has happened – getting an unlikely result due to one player's inspiring performance – and almost every time, that team found a positive result in the next game, and the one after that as well. This is what the Crew will need.
I know Caleb Porter quite well and there’s no doubt he’s spent countless hours analyzing what’s gone wrong and how it can be fixed. But I also know that at this point he’s going to tell his boys to only look forward. The Crew must approach this remaining phase as an eight-game season in which they need to win four or five games at least. Are they capable? Yes. Will they do it? If they can channel the energy this point should give them, I believe their best football of 2021 may still be ahead of them.
All season long I’ve been impressed with the Galaxy and have openly praised them in many of my columns. There’s no question that Greg Vanney has made a difference in raising the level of performance and expectation around Carson. However, every time I have praised them, I have also raised question marks about their defense – they simply concede too many goals to win a championship.
As I’ve looked around the West and analyzed the other top teams, I’ve seen that each one had a positive goal difference and scores way more than they concede. But the Galaxy have been giving up as many as they've been scoring; in fact, they’ve now conceded more than they’ve scored. As long as Chicharito was fit and scoring, there was a chance that they could simply score enough goals to keep pace with the best teams, but as soon as he went down and the goals dried up, the inevitable happened.
Saturday's 3-0 loss at Minnesota United made it six consecutive games without a win, in which they've averaged two goals conceded a game – an unsustainable amount for a team with hopes of silverware. Defensively, they offer too much space to opponents in and around their own box.
You don’t need to make it easy for a player like Emanuel Reynoso to punish you because he’s good enough to break down even the tightest of defenses. But the Galaxy did make it easy for him and his teammates. They gave him too much space, didn’t apply enough pressure and they practically invited him to shoot from distance twice, which he did to devastating effect.
A backline must be on the same page more often than not, that’s what the very best ones look like at least. For Minnesota’s third goal, the Galaxy weren’t sure whether they were trying to catch Minnesota offside or track the runner. In the end, they did neither and Ethan Finlay got in behind easily for the finish.
The poor form, due in part to a less-than-stellar defense, now has a team that once held Supporters' Shield ambitions looking over their shoulder to teams as low as sixth or seventh in the West. I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom because this could yet turn out to be a very successful season for the Galaxy, but they will absolutely have to tighten up at the back to make that a reality.
End of the road for FC Dallas?
It was too little too late for an FC Dallas team that was fighting for their postseason lives. A 3-2 defeat to their bitter rivals Houston Dynamo FC could effectively be the nail in the coffin of their postseason hopes. They can still make the playoffs as long as they go on a very good run and play an almost flawless season from here on out, but this defeat has made that task so much tougher as they were undone by a Houston team riding the Fafa Picault wave. The former Dallas winger can’t stop scoring right now.
Squad rotation is always an interesting topic to me. On one hand, I understand that every club has entire departments dedicated to tracking all kinds of player data from hours slept and workload to distance covered and the number of high-intensity sprints. Coaches have access to all of this info as they decide their lineups.
On the other hand, I’ve watched the top players in the world play 60 games a season – and very often on a Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday schedule – year in year out. Top players never want to rest because one of the keys to their good form is the continuity and match sharpness you get from playing every few days.
On Saturday, the Sounders appeared to have one eye on the Leagues Cup Final and chose to rest some key players and limit the minutes of others. Understandable, yes, but it definitely made Real Salt Lake’s task much simpler in their Saturday night matchup.
The question I find myself asking is whether the Sounders would have been better served naming their strongest team if for no other reason than to keep their best players in game rhythm while getting a positive result. And of course, if they did that, and someone had gotten injured, I’d be writing that they should have rotated the squad. It’s going to be a never-ending conversation and there’s no perfect solution.