OBETZ, Ohio – “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” the saying goes. The Columbus Crew have done the latter two more than they would like.
In their past five MLS games, Columbus have not been in the lead for a single minute. They have trailed by a goal a third of the time and been down at least two goals another 33 percent.
Is there any doubt why the Crew are 0-3-2 in those games heading into Saturday’s match at Toronto FC?
“You never want to be chasing the game, especially early on,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “If you can keep the game 0-0 or 1-1 it gives you more confidence as the game goes on. When you’re down, you’re a little too excited to go forward. You’re a little anxious. I don’t think that’s the right way to play.”
In successive games last month, the Crew allowed a 13th-minute goal to Edson Buddle in a 3-1 loss at Los Angeles, a goal to Blaise Nkufo in the fourth minute of a 4-0 defeat to Seattle and Pat Phelan’s second-minute strike during a 2-2 draw at New England.
“We definitely have to be sharper and try to score first,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said.
The Crew managed to build themselves significant deficits in their contests with the Galaxy, Sounders and Revs. In all three matches, the Crew trailed by at least two goals before scoring.
“We still feel we can come back,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “The game against New England we were down 2-0 on the road and still tied the game. The mind set is still there but it would help us to go up for a change.”
The energy used to get an equalizer has been compromised by a busy schedule that had the Crew playing 11 in three competitions over the last 39 days in three competitions, a marathon that ended with a loss to Chicago last week.
“Playing this many games, it’s hard going into every one of them chasing the game for 85 minutes,” Gaven said.
Even worse is a two-goal or more deficit.
“There’s no question you have to change your game,” Warzycha said. “You have to make subs because you’re chasing. You make changes in the back when you don’t want to. That’s completely different than losing 1-0.”
The Crew (13-8-7) trail the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls by two points with two games left, but both have clinched playoff spots. The Crew-TFC match will end at about 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, when the Red Bulls kick off against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
“We always want to be first,” Warzycha said. “It would be nice to put pressure on New York, but what’s more important for our confidence is to win the game because that will help us going into the playoffs.”
But according to Rogers, there’s only one thing to change in Columbus.
“We need to start the games better,” he said. “We need more energy at the beginning and make the other team fear us whether we’re at home or on the road. Our team has talked about it. It’s not the time for talking. It’s time to do something.”