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Atlanta United at Columbus Crew SC: Three Questions with Massive Report

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Pat Murphy helps us take a look at the state of the Crew as Atlanta United pay a visit.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

By all accounts, the city of Columbus can count itself fortunate to still have an MLS franchise today. One of the league’s charter members were in danger of being relocated to Austin by now-former owner Anthony Precourt before a grassroots effort saw a new ownership group step in that was actually committed to keeping the team where it was. (Eventually, Precourt got his team in Austin, but to say he’s now persona non grata among the Columbus fanbase is an understatement.)

The #SaveTheCrew movement was - and is - one of the best feel-good stories in professional soccer in recent memory. Under the leadership of a new ownership group and a new coach, will on-the-field success follow? Pat Murphy from our sister blog, Massive Report, was our point person for this week’s Q&A as Atlanta United visit Columbus Crew SC on Saturday.

Columbus went unbeaten through its first three matches before a heavy defeat up at Philadelphia. What’s been the general feeling about how the Crew’s season has gone thus far, and who has stood out to you?

The general feeling is good but last week’s loss was certainly eye-opening. The Crew has not been good enough in front of goal or in chance creation in 2019. Two of the team’s four goals have come from center back Gaston Sauro on corner kicks. The other two were from Gyasi Zardes in one game. That has to change if this team is going to be successful this year.

Now to be fair, the Black & Gold were without five regular starters last week. But Caleb Porter believed in his depth going into the game and it was a total letdown. The team was not able to keep the ball like they had in previous weeks, and the giveaways led directly to all three goals.

In general, I think this is a good team that should make a playoff run under Porter but the flaws were certainly obvious against the Union. If this team doesn’t get more scoring production from the likes of Federico Higuain, Justin Meram and Pedro Santos, it’s going to ask a lot of this defense, which is good but probably not great.

Gregg Berhalter, of course, is now with the USMNT. What are some of the fundamental differences between his coaching style and that of Caleb Porter, and who on the Crew can stand to benefit the most under Porter?

MLS: FC Dallas at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

There honestly aren’t many differences between the way Porter and Berhalter want to play, at least not thus far. The only major differences, if you can call it that, is that Porter wants to run a counter-press and possess the ball a little bit more in the offensive middle of the field.

Just to be clear, the Crew won’t press teams like the New York Red Bulls or some other teams in MLS, but if they turn the ball over in the attacking third, maybe the attacking half, and they have an advantage, the Black & Gold will look to put pressure on and win the ball back quickly.

As for the buildup in the midfield, the central midfield duo of Artur and Wil Trapp are being used more in a double pivot as opposed to having set roles as they did under Berhalter. This helps get each player higher at times and more involved in the offense.

But all in all, the Crew will look similar under Porter to how they did with Berhalter.

Let’s dive into the new signings - Joe Bendik, Robinho and Waylon Francis. What have been your impressions of them thus far in the early going? I’m especially focused on Bendik since he’ll likely be replacing Zack Steffen when the latter moves to Manchester City later in the year.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

I would say the new signings have had a minimal impact thus far. Francis is a starter for this team because last year’s starter, Milton Valenzuela, tore his ACL in the preseason. That prompted the Crew to go out and bring Francis back. The Costa Rican is a bit of a downgrade from the young Argentinan, but he’s above serviceable and is familiar with how Columbus wants to play.

Bendik has only played in one game, last week’s with Steffen out, and gave up three goals. I wouldn’t put any of them on him, as his team left him out to dry a few times. He certainly did not organize his backline as well as Steffen does and the defenders are clearly still getting used to him. I’m not sure if he’s the long-term solution to Steffen but he likely will be the guy this year when the starter heads off to Manchester.

Robinho is interesting. He was actually brought in by Berhalter but announced as part of the new regime. He’s a speedy Brazilian winger with some foot skills. I don’t believe he’s quite ready to be an MLS starter yet, and last week he was knocked off the ball far too easily throughout the game, but he could provide pace off the bench. With that said, he may start this weekend with Justin Meram coming back from Iraq on international duty.