Photo via Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
In a season mired with pauses, uncertainties, ups, downs and everything in-between, the Columbus Crew have kept it steady.
The more important aspect for the club’s success, though, has not come through their consistency, but their resolve.
After all, this was a team that was as bottom-of-the-barrel as it came last season. The Crew during the 2019 campaign finished 10-16-8, which was good enough for a whopping 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference Table. Their 39 goals scored ranked 11th out of 12 clubs in the Eastern Conference and 22nd among 24 MLS clubs. To sprinkle off the lowly totals, the Crew’s 1.12 points per game were tied for 21st.
When you round everything up in a short, blunt and (relatively) painless way, you had a club with a sub-par record, a sputtery offense and an overall roster that did not rake in the points.
The 2020 Crew, though, are anything but their 2019 counterparts.
The turnaround for the Crew has been apparent through all facets of play. Their record through Oct. 22 is 10-4-4 in 18 games played. Their 34 points are third best in the Eastern Conference and, more importantly, have helped them solidify their first playoff berth since 2018 (they clinched it on Sunday in their 3-1 win over NYCFC). The 2018 season, however, saw Columbus possess a negative goal differential (-2). The Crew’s goal differential in the 2020 season currently sits at +15, third best among all MLS clubs. Should the goal differential remain 15 or higher, it would be the highest goal differential for Columbus in their 24-year existence, dating back to 1996 (their +14-goal differential during the 2008 season is currently the franchise record).
The positive goal differential, partly, has been because of a revamped attack. Forward Gyasi Zardes and midfielder Pedro Santos have continued to be stable players on the frontal attack. The 11 goals scored by Zardes not only leads the club but leads the entire Eastern Conference and is second in all of MLS, lagging behind only Diego Rossi of LAFC. Santos’ six goals scored are second on the club. Although the duo has been dynamic, the likes of Lucas Zelarayan and Youness Mokhtar have been up-and-coming players to supplement the them.
Zelarayan, after being acquired last December as a Designated Player, has shown nice signs through his 2020 rookie campaign. His five goals rank third on the club, and, more shockingly, has scored all five in only 11 games played. His goals per 90 minutes played (G/90 min) of .63 lead the team. Mokhtar, meanwhile, has three goals scored, which ranks fourth on the club. Together, both Zelarayan and Mokhtar have collected 19 shots apiece, which is tied for third among all Crew players in terms of shots. Only Zardes and Santos have more, as they have shot the ball 35 and 34 times, respectively.
A still-strong defensive backline and sturdy enough goalkeeping unit, led by Eloy Room and Andrew Tarbell (who have combined for nine shutouts), has supplemented the deeper attack and has conceded only 15 goals over the entire season. This is the lowest amount among all MLS clubs.
At this point, the picture is crystal clear. The 2020 Columbus Crew are nothing like their 2019 selves. They are not a pushover. If anything else, they are the ones pushing everyone else.
Regular season success, although a nice sight to see for Columbus, does not always translate to postseason prosperity. Once the postseason begins, it is a clean slate for all clubs.
Playoff factoids aside, Columbus has taken a step in the right direction, even with a roller coaster season that is 2020. The step, through their enhanced offense and lock-down defense, can match up against anyone.
So does their resolve.