It’s been said that the MLS schedule is a grind — the hot, summer weather and the long travel distances make North America’s topflight relatively unique as far as professional soccer leagues go — and if you were to have taken a look at the Crew’s schedule in preseason and picked the toughest stretch of matches, it’s a good bet this week would have been one of your choices.
Playing three matches, in three different stadiums, in seven days is no easy task. Yet, that’s what Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus Crew was asked to do this week, and after reaching the end of that veritable gauntlet with a 1-0 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Berhalter admits his side is exhausted.
“The guys are running on fumes,” said the Crew boss. “You can see the difference, it was clear. [Vancouver] had a bunch of players that were fresh and running around, and we didn’t have it, physically. In one way, I’m disappointed, but in another way, the guys gave everything they had, and unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough today.”
Vancouver amassed 22 shots on Saturday, or just slightly fewer than Kansas City and Houston had combined in the two earlier matches this week (25). Erik Hurtado had five for Whitecaps FC, as well as the match’s only goal, beating Steve Clark with a curling shot from distance.
“The margins for winning and losing are very small, and right now, we’re on the wrong side of those,” said the Crew goalkeeper. “We need to fix that. Small things make a big difference. Obviously, today, we were very tired. They had a good game plan, they came in with a lot of energy, and it showed.”
The Crew's next match comes at Portland on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, Time Warner Cable SportsChannel), as FIFA World Cup decisions are expected to be made in the coming weeks for several of his players.
“This is a good opportunity for some new guys to step up, and they’re going to have to. We’ll give them a chance, and we’ll see. I’m confident that we have guys that are ready to play.”
Although the team has a difficult challenge on tap against Portland, the return to a one-match-per-week schedule figures to rejuvenate Columbus.
“It’s recovery right now. It’s recovery,” said Berhalter, on preparing for Timbers FC. “A lot of guys played a lot of minutes in the last seven days, and it’s about getting away — getting away from the game for a couple days and resting their bodies, healing their bodies.
“You see some of the guys are banged up, so that’s the priority right now, and then to have a good week of training, a full week of training, and go up to Portland and try to play a good game.”