The preamble to Toronto's second game of the season continues as I exchanged a few questions with Pat Murphy of SB Nation's Columbus site, Massive Report, digging a little behind the scenes into how the Crew SC are approaching the new season.
Question the First
Many think highly of the Crew SC chances this season and have projected Columbus to contend for the top spots in a weak Eastern Conference, what are the internal and local expectations for 2015?
First, I don’t see the Eastern Conference as being weak, in fact I think it is stronger than it was a year ago. I think talent and coaching in this half of the MLS table is being considerably under valued. Although Orlando City SC and New York City FC are both expansion sides, I think both teams have the potential to compete. The New England Revolution are serious contenders after being in the Final last year. Toronto improved in the offseason... I could go on but I think my point is made.
To the actual point of your question, I think the expectations are fairly high in Columbus. The team believes it can exceed what it did a year ago (third place in the East and a first-round exit in the playoffs) and I think most fans are hopeful they can achieve that much.
People are interested to see how some of the new signings fit in, but with the way this team plays and what they did towards the end of the season, not to mention most of the core returning in 2015, fans are excited about the prospects of year two in this new era.
Question the Second
Gregg Berhalter has begun his second season in charge of the club, how confident, given last year's playoff stumble, are supporters and the club that he is the man to return Columbus to MLS Cup glory?
Very. Last year began with a fast start, but then the team struggled over an eight match stretch. During the rough patch, fans began to question the hiring of Berhalter, who continued to preach patience. The team’s turnaround over the second half of the year reassured fans that their head coach in fact knew what he was doing.
Although the playoff performance was disappointing, it wasn’t that surprising. New England was the only team hotter than the Black and Gold in MLS to end the season and were ticked off at Crew SC for beating them during that stretch. When fans looked back, they saw a team that gained needed playoff experience and now has motivation to use in 2015.
If the team struggles over the first two months of this season, I’m sure unease will begin to creep up again. Yes, the Black and Gold lost their opening game, but they dominated a Houston Dynamo team who had a goalkeeper play the game of his life. Realistically, that game could have been 3-1 in favor of the visitors instead of 1-0 the other way. That was disappointing for fans, but promising.
Having spent a good amount of time around Berhalter, it is clear he has a plan and the players have all bought in. I believe he’s the man for the job and I think that’s the sentiment around Columbus.
Question the Third
How have the fans taken to the new, improved, and rebranded Crew SC since Anthony Precourt purchased the club mid-2013? Any grumblings of discontent or has he managed to tiptoe that line between change and continuity well?
I don’t think I’ve talked to a single fan who isn’t happy with Precourt’s ownership. The improvements he made to the stadium and at the team’s training facility a year ago were needed upgrades, though not all of them noticeable by fans. The rebrand was well received overall. The money he’s put in for player acquisitions (Mix Diskerud last year before that fell through being the prime example) is a sign of what he’s willing to contribute to improve the team on the field.
This year, he’s already secured naming rights for the stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium), something that was always rumored to be a priority under Hunt Sports Group but never seemed likely. Other upgrades to the stadium, including local food and beer specialties, will add something special to the game day experience.
All in all, Precourt has done well. Even when the new jerseys leaked early, he decided to roll with it and embrace them over social media instead of denying or staying quiet. He’s handled everything with class and has really been a presence despite living on the West Coast.
So far so good is what I would say.
Given Toronto's penchant for spending, will Columbus ever win another Trillium Cup? And does it matter or is it a meaningless trophy?
I threw this one out to the rest of the Massive Report staff to answer and got some fun/good responses back.
Kris Landis said, "Yes, we will. I'll take coaching consistency and a real vision over a giant checkbook wielded by people who don't have any clue how to run a club… plus, it's not like our pockets are quite so shallow anymore."
Sam Fahmi responded with, "I think Toronto itself has proven that throwing money at the problem does not mean success (see missing the playoffs last year). In some situations, smarter player acquisitions and movement is what gets you the results. That's what I think will set the Precourt/Berhalter era apart.
As for the trophy, I think it means more now than it ever has. With Toronto sweeping the series a year ago, this can finally be a rivalry. I don’t know if there really needs to be a trophy attached to it to give it the intensity of a serious rivalry, but there is one so someone might as well raise it each year. All starts on Saturday!
Score 2-2, I think being at home helps Columbus but the suspension to Tony Tchani hurts this team's ability to control the midfield like they want to do.
Goalscorers Ummmmm, Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay for Crew SC and Sebastian Giovinco and Robbie Finlay for TFC
Steve Clark; Hernan Grana-Michael Parkhurst-Emanuel Pogatetz-Waylon Francis; Ethan Finlay-Mohammed Saeid-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram; Federico Higuain; Kei Kamara
A massive thanks to Pat for taking the time to share his knowledge with Waking the Red – he can be found on twitter @_Pat_Murphy_. Be sure to check out all the latest news and such over at Massive Report, as well.
My answers to Pat's questions about TFC can be found here.