Picking up where they left off, Crew's ability to grind out another shutout win speaks to larger culture shift

Three-hundred and seventy-one minutes of regular-season play have passed since the Crew allowed a goal, and even that goal came from the penalty spot.

If you're looking for a goal conceded from open- or set-play*, you'll have to go back to 2019 -- or 572 regulation minutes -- to find the last time that the Crew conceded in regular-season action.

That type of defensive trend doesn't tend to happen right out of the gate, let alone when you've had to re-start a season three times now. But six games into the season and the Crew has already tied its shutout total from 2019.

It's a credit, as captain Jonathan Mensah said following Thursday's win, to the culture the team is building.

"I think these kinds of games actually show a different side of our character. We have a strong team, and we always find a way to win. We’re creating a culture that we do whatever we can to win games."

Finding a way to win is the key line there.

Remember, it was still a one-goal game past the 80th minute, and Head Coach Caleb Porter said he wasn't entirely content with his team's play on Thursday, saying he thought "there were times where we could’ve looked sharper in possession."

Nevertheless, he gave credit where it was due -- that, of course, was primarily on the defensive end.

"I’m really pleased with our defending and the clean sheet, and all this makes me happy. We’re not pleased with our overall control and rhythm, I thought there were times where we could’ve looked sharper in possession but it’s always good when you can be getting three points and win 3-0 when you feel like maybe it wasn’t your best day."

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The defensive play in 2020 has been more than just a fallback, and it's been a noted change of pace from a 2019 season that featured 11 points dropped from a winning position.

"We defended well, so when you're not playing all that well and you don't get that control and not creating as much as you want, you have to buckle down, you have to defend. It can't be an all-or-nothing thing."

After Thursday's match, Porter highlighted the play of Mensah, and rightly so. The 30-year-old centerback continues to lead MLS by far in clearances (43) and headed clearances (24), in addition to his league-leading 373 successful passes.

"The guy sitting next to me, Jonah Mensah, the captain, he's as good as any centerback in the league in my opinion," Porter said while emphasizing Mensah's experience in big moments. After all, he has played in two World Cups for Ghana.

Still standing atop of the Supporters' Shield race at 5-0-1 (16 pts.), this year marks the first time in Club history in which the team has recorded five shutouts in its first six regular-season games, and they've done it with six different starting backlines.

Additionally, Thursday's win marked the fourth straight victory for the Crew, which hasn't been accomplished since 2012. With NYCFC slated for Monday, Aug. 24, the Crew will be looking to win five straight for the first time since 2009.

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So whether the defense features a centerback pairing of Mensah with Josh Williams or Aboubacar Keita; or goalkeepers Eloy Room and Andrew Tarbell; or veteran Hector Jimenez filling in for Milton Valenzuela, it hasn't seemingly made much of a difference as the Crew head out for their first road game in over five months with a 12-to-1 goal differential.

And as confident as the Crew appears to be six games in, there's still room to grow as the team looks to solidify its name as an MLS Cup contender.

That process, Mensah noted, starts with creating a culture and an expectation of winning every day.

From there, "that will be it," he said.

"Most importantly, we need to win the game. I told Coach that’s the culture we’re trying to create. Myself, Josh [Williams], the whole backline, and even the whole team, we scoot ahead. We didn’t concede today, and whatever happens, we’re going to be strong and that will be it."

*A previous version of this article stated 572 minutes without conceding from open play (TOR). That goal was from a set-piece. 

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