The Columbus Crew have allowed 41 goals this season, solidly mid-table in MLS. Nearly a quarter of those goals, however, have come in two games.
If you take out a 6-2 defeat away to the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 27 and a 4-2 setback against Toronto FC two weeks later, the Crew have been consistently good at keeping the ball out of their own net. In the other 30 matches they have conceded 31 goals (1.03 average).
“Those two games were out of the ordinary,” technical director Brian Bliss said this week. “Our goals-against average [1.28] has obviously been marred by those two games but overall I think we’re pretty solid defensively.”
That said, none of the Crew’s nine shutouts have come in the past nine games, and with an offense that averages 1.19 goals per game, the margin for error on defense is slim.
“We need to get back to how we were playing defense at the beginning of the year, all 11 of us,” defender Chad Marshall said. “We like keeping zeros. That’s something we take pride in.”
Columbus snapped a 0-5-1 slide with a 2-1 victory against D.C. United in their last outing on Oct. 2, but breakdowns at the end of the match almost proved fatal.
“Outside of that stretch [of two games] we had, if you look back, we’re pleased with the defense, but now it’s got to be a time when there aren’t any mistakes,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “It could be one mistake that kills you. You could have a perfect game defensively but if you don’t communicate properly on one, you’re out. It’s got to be perfect and we’ve got to demand that perfection.”
Over their first 16 games, the Crew were 6-4-6 and had conceded 17 goals with four shutouts. Since then, they have gone 6-8-2 and conceded 24, falling to third place in the Eastern Conference.
“The beginning and middle of the season, we didn’t make any mistakes defensively,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “We did not allow teams to score easy goals. That’s why we were very successful.
“Games at the end of the season we made at least one mistake and teams punished us for it,” he added. “That’s the first thing we have to do, not give up those goals.”
But the Crew also need to score goals of their own.
“We have to play to win,” Warzycha said. “We are a good possession team but sometimes we possess the ball to possess. We have to be more decisive.”
And traveling to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the New England Revolution on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MatchDay Live), the Crew will have to do something about their road form, as well. Columbus are 3-9-3 and have lost four straight away from Crew Stadium.
“We need to be confident and play like ourselves,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “We can’t go in there scared or just defending. It’s not going to work out for us if we do that. We need to be aggressive and take chances and be very strong defensively as a team.”