The best start to a season in franchise history has come to a halt for the Columbus Crew.
After a strong start to its 2014 campaign, the Crew (3-1-0) suffered its first defeat of the year Saturday, falling 2-0 to Toronto FC (3-1-0) at Crew Stadium.
U.S. Men’s National Team star and Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley scored in the 11th minute, his first Major League Soccer goal in nine years after playing in the Netherlands, Germany, England and Italy.
Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match that a poor performance during the first 20 minutes led to his team’s downfall.
“We had a horrendous start to the game. It was sloppy in every sense of the word,” Berhalter said. “To me, it’s something where we got complacent and that’s the worst thing a team like us can do because we need to keep fighting. We need to keep pushing and we’re not there yet.”
Crew midfielder Hector Jimenez had a similar impression of the team’s level of play early.
“Those first 20 minutes were crucial, giving up that early goal, and it was hard for us to come back from that,” Jimenez said.
Defender Josh Williams said the team tried to play wide, but couldn’t get the right delivery of the ball into the box.
“It was just poor service. I think that played right into them,” Williams said. “They’ve got some big guys in the middle, you know, I think they kind of let us play out wide and cross the balls in and those guys were waiting for us.”
Berhalter said the team’s failure to capitalize on its few chances was its downfall.
“A couple chances, a couple cross bars, a couple things that hit the post and it didn’t work out,” Berhalter said. “But I attribute this loss to two things: Bad start to the game and a very well organized Toronto FC.”
Toronto midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran added a second goal in the 85th minute, triggering some Crew fans’ exit to the aisles as a tight 1-0 deficit suddenly doubled and extinguished any hopes for a comeback.
Columbus had been riding a three-game winning streak before Saturday’s loss. The team’s home opener win over Philadelphia — bookended by road wins over D.C. United and Seattle — made for a perfect March.
Williams said the drama and emotion of winning in Seattle March 29 on a 94th minute goal by Columbus’ Justin Meram could have played a role in the complacency against Toronto and that the players take responsibility for the loss.
“You know, Gregg is going to take the blame. He already came in here and tried to take it but the players know, that’s just a good coach, him being him,” Williams said. “Practice felt a little lackadaisical this week, for whatever reason, I don’t know. Maybe it was just the high of Seattle. But it definitely wasn’t Gregg’s fault, and as players, we take responsibility for that … this week we’ve got to come out and train harder, prepare harder.”
The Crew has a long week to shake off the loss, as the team is slated to travel to San Jose, Calif., to take on the winless San Jose Earthquakes Sunday at 3 p.m. The Black and Gold are set to return to Crew Stadium April 19 against D.C. United, and kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.