How the Crew shift focus after a record-setting win

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Sam Fahmi – Massive Report

The Black & Gold have to move on and keep improving from the win against Atlanta United.

Saturday night at Field was special, there’s no denying that. The Columbus Crew tied the team’s record with a 6-1 win, something the club had only done two other times in its 27 years of existence, according to Transfermarkt.

There were plenty of reasons to celebrate. Without four key starters in goalkeeper Eloy Room, center back Milos Degenek, creative midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and star forward Cucho Hernandez all out, the Black & Gold dismantled Atlanta United, the Eastern Conference’s top team heading into the weekend, who admittedly also had important players out as well. It was the first time since the league’s first year that an MLS team had five players – Aidan Morris, Christian Ramirez, Philip Quinton, Jacen Russell-Rowe and Max ​​Arfsten – score their first goal for the club and two players – Ramirez and Arfsten – scored on their Columbus debuts.

This list of accomplishments and firsts from that match goes on (and was nicely compiled by Steve Sirk).

But eventually, the celebrations had to stop and the Crew had to get back to work. That began this week when the team returned to the OhioHealth Performance Center for a debrief and to begin preparations for Real Salt Lake next weekend.

But after a performance such as the one on Saturday, how does a team shift its focus back to the next game?

Head coach Wilfried Nancy began with the positives from facing Atlanta.

“The first part is to congratulate them because the way they played, they played, like I like to say all the time, against an opposition, not against Atlanta,” he said on Wednesday. “So we had a clear plan and within the plan, they were also able to take ownership about what they see on the pitch.”

During the team’s video session, Nancy made sure to highlight what his team did well in the match, which was quite a bit. He wanted to emphasize what worked against United.

This is important because this is a team still learning Nancy’s system after he took over in the offseason. A group with so many young players needs positive reinforcement that what they work on each day in training does translate to the pitch on Saturday nights.

Nancy specifically focused on the Crew’s defensive mindset and how the players won the ball high up the field. This allowed for several transition moments that led to a plethora of chances – the Black & Gold had 15 shots – and so many goals. It also kept the Five Stripes from being able to generate offense on the other end of the field.

Additionally, Nancy emphasized the consistency of his team’s high-level play. This was an issue in up-and-down performances against the Philadelphia Union in the season opener and the week prior against the New York Red Bulls. Both games had positive moments but the players were not able to compete for the full 90 minutes and this resulted in the team’s two losses of the year.

Against Atlanta, this was not an issue and Nancy wanted his players to recognize that when they are consistent, good things often occur.

“We won the game because we were good mentally,” Nancy said. “When we scored, I showed them also the kickoff. The first kickoff or the fourth kickoff, the same spirit. We tried to win the ball as soon as possible. So for me, it was a good moment to show them the brain is the most important, and also they were able to stay focused on the task. They didn’t think about the score. They thought about what they have to do with the ball and without the ball.”

It would be easy in a 6-1 win to believe everything went well but Nancy knows this was not true on Saturday. He preached having confidence after a performance such as that one but also humility. He pointed out to his players that United, albeit a more full-strength United, defeated the Portland Timbers 5-1 just seven days before facing the Black & Gold, wanting his group to realize that any team can win any game in MLS.

The video session also dove into what Columbus didn’t do well against the Five Stripes, or areas where the Crew could have been better. This may be nitpicky in a five-goal win, but it’s important to show the room for improvement after a victory just as it is after a loss.

“We looked at some things yesterday and it wasn’t all the bright spots,” Ramirez said of the team’s film session. “We did pick out the bright spots and what made us successful on Saturday. But we also picked out stuff that we could get better at, stuff that we need to improve in order to keep that consistency.

“Looking at what if things could have been different. What if I would have put the chance away when the ball fell to me at the top of the box. Or what if we were sharper in the first half in the final third. Our defensive transitions, our reactions when we lost the ball. I think we’ve been really good at winning the ball up higher up the pitch. So continuing to make sure that we don’t let teams out when we do trap them. And then when we do turn teams over, if we can exploit them when they’re wide open, I think it makes us really dynamic.”

Defensively, the Black & Gold held Atlanta to just two shots and an expected goals total of 0.10, including 0.00 in the first half. Yet Columbus did allow a goal and there were moments on this side of the ball that were addressed as well.

“A lot of it is just individual moments,” Quinton said of what the team looked at defensively. “I think the big one is obviously the goal. When we controlled the game the way we did, you want to finish the game with a clean sheet. So that was definitely disappointing for us. So we spent a lot of time looking at that. And then just other moments where, if we defend better, we create more attacks. So for us, yes, the game, when you look at the score, was great but there’s always areas to improve and always areas where we can make a different play or communicate a little better and we maybe could create one more chance or a couple more chances in the game. So that’s kind of what we looked at yesterday.”

What happened on Saturday may not happen again for the Crew anytime soon, as it was 20 years since the Black & Gold’s last six-goal game. But the important thing for Nancy is that Columbus continues to learn and grow no matter the result of the game so that there can be more exciting nights for the club.

That is why this week has been handled the way it has at the OhioHealth Performance Center.

“I hope that in the future we’re going to be able to do it again. But again, this is not the way I think,” Nancy said. “The way I think is to keep the spirit, to keep this mentality that we compete against us. We are not competing against an opposition. Again, we have a lot of humility. We know that this week is really difficult because everybody can win against everybody. But this is the way we want to play. This is the way we want to attack. This is the spirit that I want to see my team on the pitch. So I’m happy.”

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