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Daniel Herlensky / Crew SC Communications

Sirk’s Noteblog: Season-opening winless streaks

With Saturday’s 3-2 victory over New York City FC, Columbus Crew SC snapped a five-game winless streak to start the season. Prior to the win, the Black & Gold had been 0-3-2 and held last place in all of MLS.

After the game, New York City coach Patrick Viera said his club got beat by a better team. I asked Viera if he felt it was a dangerous situation, coming into Columbus to face a winless team. I meant in terms of a talented team being backed into a corner, but judging by how he phrased his answer, I think Viera interpreted my question as if I were asking if he viewed it as a trap game against some winless scrubs. Regardless, the answer fits either interpretation.

“No, we knew what to expect,” Viera said. “I watched all of their games so far. They’ve played some fantastic football, and since the beginning of the week, I told my team that this team is not in the position where they should be. They are better than the position that they are in at the moment.”

“It’s very nice of him to say that,” Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said when told of Viera’s comment, “but you don’t get any points for that. Again, I think there were times in this season where we’ve been a little unlucky, but we could’ve done better and I think we realize that and it’s playing our soccer, our brand of soccer and continuing to execute, that’s important.”

As mentioned, this was the third season-opening winless streak of five or more games in Crew SC history. Those other seasons must have been disasters, right? Probably 2000…or 2005…or 2006, right?

If you’re looking at bad-start precedent, the 2016 edition of Columbus Crew SC has a lot to live up to. The only other times that Crew SC started the season with a winless streak of five or more games, it went on to win the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to the team that finishes with the best regular season record. What the….?

The 2004 Crew SC squad started with an identical 0-3-2 mark. It lost its first three matches, then managed a couple of draws. On May 15, in the fifth anniversary match at MAPFRE Stadium, they beat New England, 1-0, on a 41st minute Edson Buddle strike. The Black & Gold would only lose two more times all year, finishing on an 18-game unbeaten run (8-0-10) to claim the Shield on the final weekend of the season, winning the tiebreaker with Kanas City due to goals scored. Duncan Oughton scored the Columbus goal in a 1-1 draw at Colorado that sealed the Shield.

In 2009, as defending MLS Cup champions, Crew SC stumbled out of the gate with a seven-game winless streak, starting 0-2-5. On May 9 in Columbus, the Black & Gold beat Kansas City 3-2 on goals by Emmanuel Ekpo, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Eddie Gaven. The victory kicked off a stretch in which Columbus went 10-1-4 in its next 15 games. Crew SC ended up winning the Shield by one point over Houston, but only because Columbus lost three of its last four to make the gap close after the race had essentially been decided. There was no final weekend drama as the Shield had already been secured.

It's probably not a coincidence that the only two seasons in which the Supporters’ Shield winner started with a winless streak of five or more games happened to be the two highly competitive seasons in which the Shield winner didn’t crack 50 points. Crew SC finished with 49 points in both 2004 and 2009. Those seasons were dogfights week in and week out, and Crew SC clawed its way to the top in the end.

In 2016, Crew SC is currently 19th place in the Shield standings and it already has 12 points to make up on leader FC Dallas, but a streak is a streak, and as 2004 and 2009 show, anything is possible. Improbable, but possible. The Black & Gold have 29 games in which to add to one of the most unlikely quirks in MLS history.

WINLESS STREAKS TO START THE SEASON BY SHIELD WINNERS

YEAR

SUPPORTERS’ SHIELD WINNER

OPENING WINLESS STREAK

1996

Tampa Bay Mutiny

0

1997

D.C. United

0*

1998

LA Galaxy

0*

1999

D.C. United

0

2000

Kansas City Wizards

0

2001

Miami Fusion

0

2002

LA Galaxy

0

2003

Chicago Fire

2

2004

Columbus Crew SC

5

2005

San Jose Earthquakes

3

2006

D.C. United

1

2007

D.C. United

4

2008

Columbus Crew SC

0

2009

Columbus Crew SC

7

2010

LA Galaxy

0

2011

LA Galaxy

0

2012

Sam Jose Earthquakes

0

2013

New York Red Bulls

4

2014

Seattle Sounders

0

2015

New York Red Bulls

1

*1997 DC and 1998 LA officially won their first games, but via shootout. If you want to count three-point victories, both of those teams obtained one in their second match, meaning their season-opening winless streak would have been one game under conventional soccer rules. 

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