Crew SC logged perhaps its most well-timed win of the season in a 2-1 victory over New York City FC on Sept. 1.
When it takes the field Saturday against FC Dallas, it will have sat on that win for a full two weeks. Over a difficult week of training last week followed by a week of game preparation this week, the Crew will need to show it can sustain its momentum as it has over the last few seasons. In the Gregg Berhalter era, the Crew is 7-2-6 following a break between games of 10 or more days.
Center back Lalas Abubakar said finding success against FC Dallas will be a matter of exuding the same confidence it gained with the win over NYCFC.
“We just have to keep going. You can see in training that the concentration is really high and everyone is pushing each other,” he said. “It’s gonna be really good for the team. You’ve just got to be ready for the next game. Today, we started getting ready for Dallas, so it’s going to be really important.”
Berhalter indicated his team is equipped to sustain its confidence over a long stretch because, he said, the Crew typically builds its momentum with strong performances as opposed to capitalizing off specific moments.
The godson and cousin of former Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski used a baseball example to try to prove his point.
“They talk about, you hear about some events that cause momentum, for us I think it’s been performance,” he said. “You think about the (2004) Boston Red Sox, when (catcher Jason) Varitek hit A-Rod in the face with the catcher’s mitt and they say that that started the momentum to spur this win streak, right? For us it’s been performance.”
Berhalter knows his team will need a few strong performances down the stretch – starting with back to back road games at Dallas and Portland – to improve its playoff seeding and, first, to qualify for the playoffs. The latter is likely, but even with his team’s magic number decreasing, Berhalter is wary of any early celebrations.
“You’re not comfortable until you’re in and that’s the mindset. You’ve got to keep pushing, keep fighting for every single point,” he said. “Once you’re in your objective becomes even harder because now you want to get a home game. We went up to the last game of last season trying to get a bye in the first round and if we would have won in New York we would have gotten a bye.”
The United States men’s national team was outclassed by Brazil 2-0 in a Friday friendly at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
It was a chance for a young national team to minutes against a more experienced – and more talented – opponent, but Berhalter said it was nonetheless a valuable experience for the trio of Crew players – Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes and Zack Steffen – that saw the field against the world’s No. 3 ranked team.
“You’re playing against arguably a top-five player at your position in the world (in certain positions),” Berhalter said. “It’s a good, quality team you’re playing against and they’re going to be difficult games and it was a difficult game.”
Was it a bit surreal for Berhalter to see his captain, Trapp, shaking hands with one of the world’s most recognizable players in Brazil captain Neymar?
“It’s nice. Listen, when you play the sport long enough you come to realize the world of soccer is small,” he said. “You meet so many different people and there’s so many different circles that you get brought into, so that’s the great thing about the soccer world. It is a small world and the international game exposes you to a whole different array of people.”
The Crew’s training group grew by two Monday as right back Harrison Afful returned from international duty and center back Alex Crognale returned after more than a month away with United Soccer League club Orange County SC.
Afful should be available for the Crew’s Saturday game at FC Dallas, as he only played 30 minutes of the Ghanaian national team’s 1-0 loss to Kenya in an Africa Cup of Nations 2019 qualifier over the weekend. He did, however, get back to Columbus after flying back from Nairobi and was limited in training Monday to accommodate his weekend game and jet lag.
Crognale returns after continuing to log game time in the USL, where he has played 19 games this season and scored four goals. He has helped guide Orange County to a USL Western Conference-best 16-7-6 record.
The 24-year-old homegrown center back figures to at least play a role during an upcoming stretch of three games in eight days for the Crew before returning to play for Orange County in the USL playoffs. Crognale has seen 97 minutes of game time this season, scoring once in a 3-3 tie against Toronto FC in June.