Seeking solution to sudden defensive woes
Through their first 25 games of the season, the Columbus Crew allowed only 24 goals, putting them among the stingiest teams in the league. That changed in a hurry over their past two games.
The Crew have suffered a defensive meltdown, allowing six goals in Seattle on Aug. 27 and then another four this past weekend at home to Toronto, a franchise-worst mark over two games.
Head coach Robert Warzycha thinks there’s enough blame to go around.
“I said before when the defense was very strong and we weren’t giving up any goals, I said, ‘This is the entire team, not just the defense,’” he said after Saturday’s match.
“This time, it is not only the defense’s fault that we are giving up the goals. It is a combination of everything. The midfielders needs to be better and the forwards need to be better. We defend with 11 players, basically.”
And despite a bye week after the disaster in Seattle, the 4-2 defeat to Toronto – the Reds’ first win over the Crew in 13 tries – only deepened the concern.
“Ultimately, this team has built its success through defending and being hard to play against,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “Lately, we have been outworked and we have to show that passion again.”
The previous worst two-game stretch came in the first year of MLS' existence, way back in 1996 when Columbus lost 5-2 at D.C. United on May 15 and 4-2 at home to Colorado four days later. The next game was a 3-2 defeat at the LA Galaxy on May 26, meaning the 12 goals are the most the Crew has allowed in three games.
Avoiding that dubious mark is one of the objectives Wednesday when the Crew (11-9-7, 40 points) host Houston (8-9-11, 35) in Crew Stadium (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
Despite consecutive defeats, the Crew are tied for first in the Eastern Conference with Sporting Kansas City and they will be even in games after Wednesday. The big reason for Columbus’ success was their defense, which was third-best in MLS (0.96) going into Seattle but is now seventh (1.26).
Left back Josh Gardner said the recent problems are solvable.
“Every goal we’ve given up has been different,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re tight as a unit, 11 guys working defensively together and I think we’ll be fine.”
While the defense falters, at least the offense has been making some noise lately. The Crew have nine goals in the past four games while going 2-0-2.
“Two goals should give you a win,” Warzycha said.
Despite the surge, Columbus are tied with Portland for 10th at a 1.22 goals per game. They also have a minus-1 goal differential (33-34).
Forward Emilio Rentería suffered a concussion in a 65th-minute collision with Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei that forced both from the match.
The Venezuelan is out Wednesday and his availability for Saturday at Philadelphia is in question.
Midfielder Eddie Gaven practiced Monday for the first time since suffering a leg bruise at Colorado on Aug. 5. Warzycha said he will not be ready by Wednesday but may travel to Philadelphia.
Also, midfielder Bernardo Anor is still out after spraining his left ankle last week.