The Columbus Crew season will be a rollercoaster ride


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The Columbus Crew lack stability and predictability in 2022.

Carter Sims, Staff Writer

As has life for the past few years, recent seasons for the Columbus Crew have had extreme ups and downs. It’s hard to know what to expect from the Black and Gold. As the club is growing into its new identity and has a roster in flux, this season of Crew soccer will be a ride.
In the season immediately following the 2020 MLS Cup win, the Columbus Crew went from aspirations of a repeat to watching the postseason from home. The biggest reason for this was the slump the Crew went into in the late summer.
Because of the 2020 championship, the Crew was entered into the CONCACAF Champions League before the MLS regular season. They were also set for the Campeones Cup, as the MLS and Liga MX (Mexico) faceoff in the new annual tradition. The Crew ultimately advanced one round in the CCL, but with the competitions combined, Columbus would see an added 450 minutes on top of the regular season.
Schedule congestion will always increase injury risk, and that was seen immediately as young and promising Aiden Morris had his season end in the first game with a torn ACL.
The injury bug spread further, and nearly every player had dings and dents by season’s end. The international schedule played a part too, as World Cup Qualifying and continental competitions overlapped the MLS calendar. This added even more to the workload, and Covid complications and protocols contributed to further absences.
One of these absences was Gyasi Zardes, as the USMNT striker had to miss time with the Black and Gold because of international call-ups. This gave young forward Miguel Berry an opportunity, and Berry was able to be in the right place at the right time, often getting tipped goals and being on the receiving end of great passes.
Now that the new season is in full swing, head manger Caleb Porter has picked his favorite.

Porter seems to have a vision for Berry that exceeds his current abilities. Despite having a nearly identical goal-to-minute ratio to Zardes, Porter gave Berry starts with increasing regularity with very little production to start 2022.
Berry can often be found standing behind the last defender in an offside position, getting a shot blocked by a defender close by or simply not putting a touch on a crossing ball right in front of him. The Berry Project sidelined a 2-time MLS Cup champion, 2018 Comeback Player of the Year, USMNT regular and community cornerstone in Gyasi Zardes.
The handling of the Zardes situation isn’t the only reason for Crew fan’s growing disdain for Caleb Porter, but it’s definitely at the top of the list. As recently as March 18, Porter was defensive talking about a Zardes trade buzz article at his media availability session.
“We’re not trying to shop Gyasi,” Porter said. “If that’s what came out of the article, that’s inaccurate. There’s no controversy. We’ve got two good strikers, just like I’ve told you guys. In every one of these meetings it seems like we’re getting that question.”
From the time of those comments to the day of the Zardes trade (April 22), Porter tapped Zardes to start in just one MLS match. His only other start was against Detroit City FC in a US Open Cup match, in which Zardes scored a penalty kick.
Following the trade, Porter had changed his tune, and immediately started pointing out flaws in the striker’s games
“Good clubs move players that are right at that time, and it’s not easy,” Porter said. “I just started seeing him kind of miss chances that maybe he would normally make.”
Porter also blamed time for a reason to trade the forward.
“I’d say he’s not fallen off the cliff like some players do,” Porter said. “But slowly he’s going to start to go down every year because of his age.”
A spring scoreless streak filled with chance goals for the opposition and frustrating play from the Crew was reminiscent of the dog days struggle the team went through last season. The spell was especially jarring after the hot start Columbus made to the 2022 campaign, going undefeated in four matches.
The matches after were four losses for the Crew, in which the Black and Gold couldn’t score in the run of play. The issues could be pointed to injuries partially, but inconsistency on the backline led still to increased possession for the opposition, and the painful spell had Columbus in the cellar of the MLS.

The Crew did rebound, with points in three of their last four games. The day after the Zardes trade, the Crew was able to grind out a draw against Sporting Kansas City in one of the better defensive showings of the season. It was followed by a 3-0 dismantling of DC United, as the Crew unleashed a trio of beautiful goals. The next week Crew snatched a point out of New England, as late substitution Erik Hurtado netted a chance in the 89th minute.
Most recently however, the Crew suffered a 2-0 loss in the outfield of Yankee Stadium at the hands of the New York City Football Club. The Crew struggled to get shots on target and poorly marked NYCFC striker Valentin Castellanos.
The inconsistency for the Crew has been largely due to an abundance of questions being met with a scarcity of answers. When will Milos Degenek get comfortable with life in the MLS? Can Johnathon Mensah return to his lockdown prowess of the Cup season and be the attack stopper he was? Will the wingers be able to find some chemistry with Lucas Zelaryan? When will the new striker (whoever it is) be in Columbus? Is Caleb Porter the long term plan?
The Crew faithful should buckle up because the upcoming season could be a bumpy ride. With the power dynamic in the Eastern Conference changing and the identity of the Crew beginning to change as well, not much in the months ahead is easily projected. But given the talent on the roster and the championship pedigree still in the building, the fans singing “Columbus Till I Die” should demonstrate their loyalty.