1. Gregg Berhalter's appointment was supposed to usher in a far more attractive, attacking Crew SC. While it's done that to a large degree (hello, Kei Kamara!), the Black & Gold have also shown a distressing propensity to leak goals. How does Berhalter fix that, in order to put Columbus in the best position to win the Cup?
Well, it's weird. That wasn't so much an issue a year ago. The problem then was an inability for the forwards to find the back of the next (less than one-fifth of the team's goals last season came from strikers). This could be due to the presence of center back Giancarlo Gonzalez, who was sold for an MLS-record fee for a defender, but he missed a large chunk of time at the World Cup and then was gone.
Berhalter wants to play an attacking style and the team knows that is going to put the defenders, or those that stay back, in sticky situations at times with the full backs getting forward often. What's been the issue this season is stupid mistakes that have put the team in an even worse situations. While it was nice movement and passing by NYCFC on the first goal in Columbus, there was no reason for Tyson Wahl to track Poku so far up the field. When he did, no one filled in and Poku exploited the space. Things like that.
Crew SC brought in a new center back over the transfer window in Gastón Sauro, but no one is really sure when he will be ready to go.
The Black & Gold are working on things defensively, but right now it's hasn't clicked. Berhalter is not going to change his system, as he wants to play attacking soccer and he's seen this group play good defense in the past. I guess as long as they keep scoring, it won't matter too much, but that approach likely won't work in the playoffs.
2. Teams like the Galaxy, New York City, and even Toronto have splashed on star players. Crew SC was famously linked to Mix Diskerud last season. Aside from Pipa Higuaín and Kei Kamara, though, Columbus' roster isn't star-laden. No one's expecting Columbus to sign players like Didier Drogba or Wesley Sneijder (sadly!), but if Crew fans were being realistically ambitious, whom would they want to sign to help out Higuaín and Kamara?
Gerard Piqué or Manuel Neuer would be good starts to help out defensively. Not to say that Steve Clark or Michael Parkhurst have been bad (though the stats don't like), but a major defensive contributor would be ideal.
With that said, this is just not how this club operates. The Mix almost-deal was big here in Columbus because it showed that owner Anthony Precourt was willing to spend money if the right guy was found. In retrospect, I think everyone is happier than Diskerud didn't end up with Crew SC, not because he isn't talented but rather there's not really a spot for him. Oh, and that money went to sign Kamara.
Berhalter has a wide scouting network and prefers to use that to find players. The addition of Cedrick Mabwati and Harrison Afful, both of which you saw in the first meeting, are the type of players this club is going to go after. So far, Berhalter is hitting a lot more than he's missed, which isn't always the case when big names come to MLS (Pirlo and Villa being apparent exceptions).
3. Despite being an expansion team, and despite having an awkwardly-constructed constructed roster, Jason Kreis is under a bit of pressure as the season winds down. What are the expectations for Berhalter in Columbus?
This season? At the minimum make the playoffs. After last year, this team should be in that conversation and they have been. I think with the way the regular season ended and the preseason talk of the Black & Gold as a potential MLS Cup team got fans really excited and the season hasn't gone to plan.
That isn't to say this team isn't right where they should be. I picked them to finish right around third place in the East to start the season, but it's the way the results have gone down. There hasn't been that run this year where Columbus looked like the dominant team in MLS, which they did (along with the New England Revolution) to close out last year.
Will this team meet expectations? It certainly appears so. Can they be a scary team to face in the playoffs? Absolutely. They have potentially the best attack in the league and a bench that is finally starting to contribute. Will some fans be disappointed if this team doesn't lift a trophy at the end of the year? Yes, but that's fans. Those in Ohio are used to disappointment when it comes to professional sports teams.
You can read our responses to their questions here. Today's game is at 4 PM ET; you can watch live on YES.