Zoom out from what was arguably Crew SC’s ugliest game since Week 2 of the 2017 season and the team has so far produced what many would consider a decent start.
Entering Sunday of Week 7, Crew SC (4-3-1) is tied atop the Eastern Conference with 13 points, and that’s after a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.
Even with a 1-3-0 record on the road, this year’s start is a marked improvement over last year’s. Crew SC needed until May 28 to get points 12, 13 and 14.
Starts to individual games, however, have been a different story.
In many instances last year, the Crew was able to hang tough for a half or more, only to yield a crushing goal to change the result late.
For the last three weeks, the problem hasn’t been finishing, but starting.
Crew SC has faced a 1-0 deficit by the 22nd minute – at the latest – of three consecutive games, and each game brought a different reaction to a slow start.
On April 8 at Chicago, the deficit remained 1-0 but the Crew considered itself unlucky to leave without a point.
Last Saturday against Toronto FC, the deficit was eliminated with a pair of late first-half goals.
On Saturday against New York, there was not a similar response to answer to Alex Muyl’s 11th-minute goal.
Berhalter didn’t fault his team’s effort in the 2-0 loss – Daniel Royer converted a 38th-minute penalty kick for the second score – but said he was disappointed in a start in which his team looked out of sorts.
“I think the effort was there,” Berhalter said. “I’m disappointed in that I felt we could have competed better in the first 15 minutes of that game. That’s what I’m most disappointed with.”
New York pressed, as it typically does, but Berhalter said he thought the Crew wasn’t overwhelmed by it. He also said it wasn’t clear how much Artur’s broken wrist in the opening minute contributed to early mental lapses.
Instead, he felt his team struggled with competing for first balls on the defensive end.
“That’s how they got their first goal,” Berhalter said. “I think that’s how they came into the game. We know there’s gonna be some times when you give the ball away, it’s Red Bull, but to me it was a matter of (competing) on the defensive end.”
Breaking down last weekend’s win over Toronto, Berhalter said a slow start had more to do with Toronto’s pressure than his team’s inability to establish possession. On Saturday, he called a slow start a slow start.
Through 17 minutes, a Crew team built on keeping the ball was at just 24.6 percent possession.
To be clear, Crew SC is not the first visiting team to struggle at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls have not allowed a goal in four home games in 2017 and on Saturday extended their regular season home unbeaten streak to 18 games.
But, as Berhalter put it this week, Crew SC goes into road games with the intention of playing for three points. Another troublesome start Saturday quickly deflated those hopes as well as hopes for just one point.
“I think it’s important to get good starts, especially away from home,” Berhalter said. “You want to show the opponent you came to play, you’re going to make it as difficult as possible, you’re up for the game. What they wanted to do was cause a lot of duels early in the game and they won a lot of those duels and now all of a sudden we’re on or back foot and it’s hard to get back into the game.”
The focus for Crew SC now turns to a three-game homestand in which the team will look to regain an early-game rhythm, starting with a game next Saturday against NYCFC.
“Listen, the thing is we have a game next weekend against another good opponent,” Berhalter said. “So we’re gonna analyze it and try to improve and get better, but this game’s done right now. It’s in the books and it was a good opportunity for us, but we came up short and we live to fight another day.”