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Ethan Finlay battles against the Chicago Fire’s Eric Gehrig. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Crew

After losing to the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the MLS Cup last December, the Columbus Crew SC came into the season with lofty goals and high expectations for its offense. Crew SC, which tied Toronto FC for the second-best attacking record in the MLS last year with 1.71 goals per game (58 goals in 34 regular season matches) in the regular season, returns its scoring threats in forward Kei Kamara and midfielder Ethan Finlay.

Kamara, the team’s MVP last year, scored 22 goals and had eight assists. Finlay became the second player in Crew SC history to reach double figures in goals (12 goals) and assists (13) in a single campaign.

However, it was a brutal March for the Black and Goal as Crew SC stumbled out of the gates with a 0-2-1 record. Offensively Columbus has had its lowest output since 2011, scoring just two goals in its first three games.

After the team’s 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union on March 12, Sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said the team knows what it is supposed to do but has yet to bring it to the field.

“That’s the worst part about this. We know what we should do,” said Berhalter, whose team travels to face FC Dallas on April 2 and Montreal Impact on April 9. “We didn’t open up the passing lanes. When you play like that, you don’t deserve to win. I don’t think our movement off the ball was good enough. We let them press us a little bit.”

The signs are there that Crew SC is close to having a breakthrough. Midfielder Federico Higuain opened the season with a spectacular bicycle kick for the team’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Portland on March 6. The goal was ranked one of the top bicycle kicks in MLS history.

With the exception of the Portland match, where the Timbers had 20 shots to Columbus’ 19, the Crew SC has had more shots and more shots on target than their opponents. Against Philadelphia, Columbus had 19 shots on goal (seven on target) to the Union’s eight (four on target). And in their scoreless tie at Chicago on March 19, Columbus had 12 shots (four on target) to the Fire’s four (one).

“This group is very familiar with each other,” said Finlay who played in his 100th MLS game against the Fire. “We know where each person likes to be. That being said it’s just execution to me. We need to get into those positions and figure things out.”

Columbus will have to correct its problems on the road. High-scoring Houston outscored its three opponents 11-7 in a 1-1-1 start and Montreal has outscored its first three opponents 6-4 in a 2-1 start .

Midfielder Wil Trapp, a 2011 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate, believes things will turn around. It’s just a matter of being patient.

“It’s definitely disappointing but those are fixable things,” Trapp said. “It’s just a matter of getting the sharpness back. That will come. We know where we can improve and how to improve. We have the players to do it.”

“It starts with us wanting to compete,” Finlay added. “That comes from within. That’s where it has to start.  We know what our responsibilities are and where it has to start. First and foremost, we have to be willing to do the work. Like Gregg said, movement off the ball is work that you don’t always get recognized for but you have to do it.”

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