It’s going to be easy for some dismiss the significance of this result. After all, neither Columbus nor Philadelphia made the playoffs last season. When most see the Crew got a 2-1 win over the Union on Saturday, they’ll think “par for the course.”
The important details are in the Crew’s bigger picture – the 2-0-0 record they’ve put up under Gregg Berhalter. Over 180 minutes with its new coach, Columbus has never trailed, outscoring its opponents 5-1 during a perfect start.
More impressive: The Crew outscored their opponents 4-0 in their two first halves. Where Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín got the season off to a strong start two weeks ago in D.C., a part of Bernardo Anor goals have Columbus cruising into halftime on Saturday. By the time the Union got back to their game in Saturday’s second half, Columbus was playing out of the more conservative posture we say last week at RFK, Berhalter’s plans having produced another decisive halftime lead.
That they didn’t start in that same, compact pose against Philadelphia makes Saturday’s performance that much more impressive. Against D.C., Berhalter seemed to set up to play off the counter, relying on his back eight to find Higuaín, who could then turn and push the Crew forward. Against the Union, Columbus dominated first half possession, winning balls in its opponents’ half as Anor staked them to a 2-0 lead. Snaring two wins with two different plans, Berhalter’s team has joined Houston and Toronto as the only clubs to get six points from their first two results.
And consider this week’s opposition. Through two weeks, Philadelphia looked like one of the best teams in the league, taking a point out of Portland before starving New England of the ball in 1-0 win last week. A revamped midfield built around Maurice Edu had John Hackworth’s team playing a completely different style, one that gave the Union an appearance of playoff contenders.
Columbus painted Philadelphia in a completely different light. Philadelphia came out and played their worst half of the season, with the return of Brian Carroll doing nothing to maintain the midfield dominance the Union had against New England. While they ultimately outshot their hosts (19-9, 4-2 on target), most of their quality was concentrated in a 15-minute span of the second half. That period may have produced Leonardo Fernandes’s goal, but it wasn’t enough to cancel out a full half Columbus control.
Two weeks ago, the Crew left RFK Stadium with three points but a series of unanswered questions after it routed a poor D.C. United. After its second game of the season, however, some of those questions are closer to answers.
Whether Columbus are for real or not, we’ll need more than 180 minutes to know, but given what we’ve seen from Gregg Berhalter through two rounds, there’s reason to believe the 2014 Crew have something the 2013 team did not. They have a man capable of capable of, week-to-week, developing a new plan, preparing his team, and implementing it on match day.
It sounds simple enough, but with only two other teams off to 2-0-0 starts, the standings show how valuable that is. Berhalter’s off to a perfect start.