COLUMBUS, Ohio – After Friday’s game against the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park, the Crew don’t play again until an away match at Toronto FC on Oct. 16.
The break will be welcomed following a stretch of four games in 10 days that has so far seen Columbus lose a CONCACAF Champions League game to Municipal in Guatemala, tie San Jose at home and lose the final of US Open Cup in Seattle on Tuesday.
The two-time Supporters' Shield winners have the busiest schedule in MLS and, as was the case last season, it has taken its toll.
The Crew are 2-2-3 in the league since the first of seven “outside” games – five CCL and two Open Cup – was played Aug. 18.
For the first two-thirds of the season, the Crew were among the best teams in the league. Over the first 20 games of the season, they averaged 1.85 points per game, scoring an average of 1.4 goals in each contest and being shut out just five times. Defensively, they allowed 0.95 goals per game and shut out their opponents eight times.
Then the games started piling up. Since that 20 game stretch, the Crew’s performance has fallen off. In those seven games, they have been shut out three times while scoring just seven goals, and have gained an average of 1.29 points per contest. The defense has also sprung a leak, allowing 1.43 goals per game into the net.
Columbus are 0-2-2 in the past four MLS games and sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the New York Red Bulls.
A win over the Fire could go a long way toward preventing the type of slide late last year that ultimately cost the Crew a chance to defend its MLS Cup title.
In 2009, the Crew averaged 1.77 points per game for 22 league matches (10-3-9) before falling to 1.25 (3-4-1) after the start of the CCL campaign.
The Crew scored 1.54 goals a game and were blanked only once before the tournament began, but were shut out in half of the last eight games while averaging 0.88.
The defense did get better during the same period – 0.88 goals-per-game allowed (two shutouts) from 1.09 (four shutouts in 22 games) – but Columbus lost three of the final four regular-season games last year by 1-0 scores and never recovered. The Crew lost 1-0 in their first playoff game at Rio Tinto Stadium before being eliminated 3-2 on aggregate by eventual champion Real Salt Lake.
Head coach Robert Warzycha has used a mixture of regulars and reserves to navigate the various competitions in his two years with the club, and has had some degree of success. The Crew reached the Open Cup final for the first time since 2002 and need one point to make the CCL quarterfinals for a second straight year.
“There’s nothing you can do about the schedule now,” Warzycha said. “The team we put on the field is the team we think can win the game.”
He’ll hope the teams he fields can start doing that. In between the Toronto match and the season finale against Philadelphia on Oct. 24, the Crew travel to Trinidad to play their last CCL group-stage match against Joe Public.