Young players performing for the Crew has created a winning mentality: It ‘isn’t a fluke’

For the first time since November 2021, the Columbus Crew won three consecutive games. The Crew, undermanned by international call-ups, defeated a depleted Atlanta United 6-1 followed by a 4-0 win against Real Salt Lake at home prior to Saturday’s 2-0 win at D.C. United. It marked the first road victory for the Black & Gold of the young 2023 season.

Things have certainly changed for the better since Columbus’ 4-0 season-opening drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Union, or even the 2-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls just four weeks back. 

Since then, the Crew has looked like an entirely different side, playing an exciting brand of attacking-style soccer in head coach Wilfried Nancy’s favored 3-4-2-1 formation. Crucial to this shape is the wing backs, Will Sands on the left and Mohamed Farsi on the right, whose creative movement, diligent work ethic and precise passing have made the Black & Gold both a constant threat going forward and a tough side to break down at the back. 

The duo has played a large part in the Crew’s recent success, putting in excellent performances in Columbus’ winning streak. Both players have been directly involved with goals this season, making their presence known in the attacking third. 

Farsi assisted Christian Ramirez’s goal in the 47th minute of Saturday night’s game at Audi Field, beating D.C. defender Jacob Greene on the dribble and finding the forward with an inward pass, which Ramirez met with a first-time finish in the bottom left corner. Even Apple TV commentator Lloyd Sam, a former MLS winger, voiced his surprise at the skill Farsi showed in beating his defender, exclaiming, “I haven’t always seen this from Farsi, but that is brilliant.”

For his performance against United, Farsi was named in the starting 11 of MLS Team of the Matchday for Week 7. It’s Farsi’s second assist of the season, his first coming in the 68th minute against Atlanta as he linked up with striker Jacen Russell-Rowe, his former MLS NEXT Pro teammate, for the forward’s first-ever Crew goal. 

Sands had a stand-out performance against Atlanta, completing 85 percent of his attempted passes and providing a brilliant assist in the dying moments of the win on rookie forward Max Arfsten’s first-ever professional goal. The assist, just like Farsi’s on Saturday, was prefaced by an inspiring dribble before finding the forward with a cross into the penalty box. Sands was named to MLS’ Team of the Matchday for Matchday 5 due to his impressive game. 

Continuing to build on that performance, Sands once again put his abilities on display against D.C. In the 11th minute of the match, goalkeeper Patrick Schulte left his post in goal to clear the ball from United’s Taxi Fountas but missed, leaving the attacker with a seemingly wide-open net in which to shoot. Enter Sands, who stood firmly just in front of the goal line to clear what would have been an all-but-guaranteed goal for D.C. 

The play of these two wing backs, both of whom spent most of last season with Crew 2, has impressed their head coach.

“It’s really important in terms of desire to go forward offensively but also defensively, this desire to all the time try to close down the ball carrier,” Nancy said after Saturday’s win. And we know that we demand a lot of runs to do. That’s why we need and we have to be good with the ball to be able to give more time to these players to repeat the action. So everything is linked. If we don’t keep the ball enough, they won’t be able to repeat this kind of action. But if we are able to get better in terms of position, it helps Will and Mo to play the game and it’s been better. But again today, everyone on the team and also on the bench did a really good game in terms of spirit and in terms of desire to compete against a difficult environment.”

Schulte is yet another player who has shown impressive growth since his MLS debut in that season-opening loss to Philadelphia. Saturday marked his fourth Crew appearance, which he capped off with a second-straight clean sheet. Schulte made four saves against D.C., most notably stretching across his goal to push a shot from Fountas away from the goal line as it nearly crept in. Schulte noted that D.C. United had chances that required him to act, but the communication with his defenders helped ensure stability at the back. 

“Trying to stay locked in the whole time, talking to the back line kept me engaged in the game for when I needed to make a save; I was able to be focused and be ready for whatever was coming my way,” Schulte said. 

As a relatively new player to the first team, Schulte says he has been feeling more comfortable with his teammates in game settings. 

“You always can practice as much as you can with everyone but when you get in the game, it’s obviously always a little different. But just kind of getting more confident and gelling more with the players that are on the field,” the goalkeeper explained. “Winning always helps but I think mentally I’m very confident right now.”

Schulte cited the mentality that Nancy has instilled in the team as one of the key components to the club’s recent free-scoring success. 

“What you see on the weekend isn’t a fluke, it’s what we do every day in practice and what Coach believes in us,” Schulte said. “Obviously, we have some very talented players that can create chances. But I think just as a team it’s ‘we, not me’ as a mentality and I think you’re seeing with how many goals we’re scoring.”

The Black & Gold look to continue this run of form when they face the New England Revolution at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 15 at Field.

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