Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation Soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
New York City FC continues its long spell away from home with a trip to Ohio to face Columbus Crew SC this Saturday at 7:30 PM. Crew has fallen on tough times this season following an excellent 2015 campaign, currently ninth in the Eastern Conference and winless in MLS since May 16th.
Massive Report writer Patrick Murphy answers our Crew SC questions this week, addressing coach Gregg Berhalter's performance this season, what we should expect from Crew Saturday, and Crew's bright spots in a dark season.
Q. Gregg Berhalter has been increasingly under fire for the team's lack of performance, and the grumblings for his departure have begun from some sections of the fan base. In your opinion, has the coach been proactive about making changes during the team's dry spell? Has he done enough, or does it fall on the players at some point?
P. I think there are a few ways to answer these questions. First, no, Berhalter has not been proactive about making noticeable changes. If you looked at non-forced switches in the lineup, there have been two: Waylon Francis and Corey Ashe have swapped in and out at left back and Ethan Finlay has seemingly lost his spot on the right wing to Cedrick Mabwati. Other than that, players have pretty much retained their spots.
Now, some of that has to do with Crew SC's health. This team has been riddled with injuries this season, so much so that it was difficult to find 18 players to fill out a game day roster at points. This makes it tough for a head coach to really make changes. When your creative spark, Federico Higuain, and arguable your best center back, Gaston Sauro, are part of those injured, it makes things even more difficult.
There have been tactical changes made from match to match that may not be as obvious. There are little alterations made to help break down the opponent, but they haven't had their intended purposes.
With all of that said, the players are more than willing to take the blame. Both Finlay and Wil Trapp, to name a few, have told me that guys need to step up and fix things. According to the players, the coaching staff has done all of the right things, but the players haven't gotten the job done on the field.
The heat is certainly on Berhalter and the team, but somehow the club is still only seven points back of the final playoff spot, meaning the team miraculously still has hope.
Q. Following the tough loss to Toronto, what changes should we expect coming into this week's match against NYC FC? Do you expect tactical or personnel alternations to enable Crew to gain a more favorable match up against New York?
P. I wouldn't expect a ton to change. The players and coaches believe in the style of play and had a week off to really work on issues.
What could be different is the addition of Nicolai Næss to the starting 11. The center back was brought over during the summer transfer window and should make his debut in this match. He is a ball-playing defender, who also is willing to put his body on the line defensively. From what we've seen of him in practice, he looks like a solid addition.
That, coupled with Federico Higuain being back for his second consecutive start after missing six matches, could spell a different feel to this Columbus team. Maybe.
Q. In a season where almost everything has gone wrong for Crew, let's use the last question to find some positives. Aside from being only seven points out of a Playoff spot, what has been the brightest spot of the season so far for Crew? Feel free to go wherever you want with your answer.
I think the obvious answer is Ola Kamara. The forward has stepped in where Kei left off and has 10 goals in 11 starts. He has quickly adapted to the playing style and certainly seems like a fit in the Crew SC offense for years to come.
I think a more complicated answer, and this will depend on how the remainder of the season goes, is that it's shown a likely need for a shakeup. It's hard to maintain success in MLS with the rules and regulations and while the Black & Gold haven't won anything of note, it's been a very good last two years. If this season ended in a middle-of-the-road finish, there may be tweaks, but if it continues on the current debacle, there will be massive changes.
While fans would love to see this group turn it around and make another run, the possibility of a forced revamp of the roster could be a blessing in disguise before things got stale much slower.
Only time will tell on this one, so let's just say Ola.
Starting XI and Prediction?
Harrison Afful-Michael Parkhurst-Nicolai Næss-Waylon Francis
Cedrick Mabwati-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
In our official predictions, I went 4-3 NYCFC, so let's go with that. Lots of attacking soccer.
Thanks Pat for answering our Crew questions this week. Have a different prediction for the match? Let us hear it in the comments section!