Once a Metro: The Columbus Crew SC defeated the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Final last season, to earn a spot in MLS Cup. Now they are sitting in 9th. How are the fans reaction to this fall?
Massive Report: Putting it lightly, it hasn't been good. Typically this is the time of year, following the NHL and NBA playoffs, where Columbus fans tend to turn their attention toward Crew SC. While a big crowd is expected for Saturday's match, there's not the same buzz around the team as there was a year ago.
From talking with some of the leaders of the supporter's groups, there just isn't the same intensity of the fans to do a lot for the team. Tailgating is down and interest in road trips in almost nonexistent. Now, could that change as we get into the summer months, even if the team doesn't start playing better? Quite possibly, but it's been rough sledding for fans who thought they had a winner on their hands to start the year.
I think most people still believe in the talent of this team, but the trade of Kei Kamara plus the injuries to key players such as Federico Higuain, Gaston Sauro, and to a lesser extent Mohammed Saeid and sicknesses to several players, I think doubt about this year is starting to creep into most supporters' minds.
OaM: We all know about the Kamara-Higuain saga that took place the beginning of May. After Kamara's departure, is Columbus in a better place? Kei still holds the team lead in goals.
MR: Better how? Is the locker room better because there's less animosity? Maybe. Kei was a big personality in the locker room and was liked by many of his teammates. He kept the team loose most of last year and obviously was a big part of the on-field success. The issues with Higuain were nothing new, but they became public. Gregg Berhalter doesn't want a locker room where players go to the media about teammates and Kei's outburst and unwillingness to apologize doesn't fit with what the staff wants the Crew SC culture to be.
On the field, the team certainly isn't as good. Kei scored 22 goals a year ago and already had five for the Black & Gold this season. He was a perfect fit for the system Columbus runs and worked well with his teammates. As you mentioned, he's still the leading scorer for the team despite almost three months passing since he was traded. Ola Kamara has done well in his absence (four goals in his last two starts), but is dealing with soft tissue injuries and there's concern about his consistent health going forward.
Crew SC is going to have to manufacture goals in other ways and not just rely on one guy (even with another Kamara on the roster), but is yet to figure that out.
OaM: RBNY and the Crew only play each other twice this year. What is the feeling going into this game?
MR: For the players, confidence continues to be high despite a lack of recent results. These players believe in the coaching staff and the system put in place and seem willing to go down with the ship, if it comes to that. According to several players I've talked to, this team is very close to turning things around and they are quick to point out that with the way the East is in 2016, they are not far from the playoff line.
As for fans, I don't think expectations are high for this match. With the way the Red Bulls have played the last several games, I would assume most people expect New York to walk into MAFRE Stadium and exploit a depleted Black & Gold side. Until fans see a turnaround in performance, I don't believe perception is going to change.
You can read Once a Metro's responses to Massive Report here.