COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Gregg Berhalter was hired to be the new Sporting Director and Head Coach of the Columbus Crew, some fans were concerned that the former LA Galaxy and U.S. National Team centerback would play an overly defensive style.
Berhalter denied that notion in preseason, but with reports from Sweden suggesting that he was fired because of a lack of offense at his last coaching job at Hammarby IF, some still worried. But the Crew has scored five goals in two matches in 2014, and the team's aggressive approach is obvious, silencing many of Berhalter's doubters.
After defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-1 Saturday, Berhalter admitted that there were some dangerous counterattacks against his team that they had to deal with.
“The way we play, we try to set the tone, try to dictate the game, try to get our backs forward. We try to be aggressive,” he told reporters after the game. “And you'll have that, especially when you turn the ball over in the middle of the field. We want to turn the ball over in different areas of the field.”
In Berhalter's offense, the two fullbacks play higher up the pitch than most, leaving central defenders Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo González, along with holding midfielder Wil Trapp, more isolated than on many teams. But Berhalter says he'd rather play attacking soccer than bunker in.
“If we want to play like that, which we do, there are going to be mistakes,” he said. “Things are going to happen, and you're going to open yourself up. But the alternative is to say we're not going to play at all, and we don't want that. We want to play, we want to open up, and we want teams to pressure us so we can play out of that pressure.”
González, in particular, made a slew of goal-saving plays in the first half of Saturday's match, and the Costa Rican international says he feels perfectly comfortable with being the last line of defense.
“That's my job, going back there and stopping those people and helping my teammates, that's why [the Crew] brought me in,” he said. “I feel good back there, and our defense is looking good.”
Parkhurst admitted that there were times when the defense looked shaky, but he welcomed the chance to play a tough opponent like Philadelphia and work through the kinks early in the season.
“In the first half, we had some counterattacks against us that put the backline in some tough spots,” he said. “And then of course in the second half, they threw a lot of numbers against us … they threw a lot of things at us and we were happy we were able to keep it to the one goal.”
Berhalter said he knows he asks a lot from his backline, but prefers to empower his squad, trusting them and allowing them to make the occasional mistake.
“It takes courage,” he said. “I tell the guys all the time, it takes a lot to ask the defenders to do that, to ask [Trapp] to do that … but they're good players. They can handle it.”