Early road wins could push Crew into playoffs

The Crew have started strong, and the road wins could go a long way towards the postseason.

Seven points and seven goals in March is a solid start to the season, especially for a team that struggled to score on the road in 2012. The Columbus Crew picked up two road wins and even though they are seen as the Federico Higuain show, the goals come from all over the field. The season is young, but it's a positive start for a team looking to get back to the playoffs.

Lofty Goals

Through four game, the Crew have seven goals - a mark they didn't reach until May 12 last year, (nine games into the season). But the Black and Gold expected more offense. Now, with a full season of Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta, the goals were expected to rain in. The duo does have a goal each, but the scoring output is being led by the defensive corps.

Josh Williams and Glauber have combined for three goals thus far, all off set chances. Williams is leading the team with two goals, and while he's not likely taking the Golden Boot Award for top scorers, he is already giving opposing defenses something (else) to worry about.

It's not surprising that the Crew defense are scoring, as the back line averages over six foot two and Higuain is a master of free kick service. As the Crew build their reputation on set pieces, opponents will be more reluctant to foul, giving Higuain and company a little more space for scoring chances.

As prolific as the back line has been in front of goal, they still have a way to go to match the output of the 2009 Crew. The defensive unit scored eight goals, led by Chad Marshall's four.

Road Warriors

The Crew only picked up 16 points on the road last year, going 4-9-4. This year, the Crew have six points after winning in L.A. against Chivas and beating D.C. United at RFK Stadium, while dropping a decision to Vancouver.

With Columbus heading out on the road 14 more times this season, they are in a good position to rack up some points away from Crew Stadium. Columbus has been consistently strong at home and a few more road wins should comfortably ensure a playoff spot.

The top MLS teams build up solid home records, and road wins secure the playoff berth. Of the ten playoff teams in 2012, eight had better away records than the Crew. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo had fewer than Columbus' 16 points. Both were outliers compared to the rest of the league, as Houston didn't lose at home and Vancouver had the worst record of any of the playoff contenders with 43 points.

Sweet Home, Columbus

The Crew's road struggles are understandable. It's tough to go on the opposing team's and take full three points. Columbus has returned the favor for visitors of Crew Stadium. 

Crew Stadium has long been a tough place to play, as they have had the best home record since the 2008 season. The 2012 Crew's 36 home points tied for fourth best in the league. Only United, New York, and Houston were better at making life tough for visitors. All three teams made the playoffs.

They tied San Jose in their only home game of the season so far, but have two more coming in April, bookending tough road matches in Montreal and Chicago.

Playoff Recipe

The Crew came into two late season contests last year needing wins to get into the playoffs. They lost in D.C. before beating Toronto, falling one point short. 

The 2013 Crew are already starting to change those results. They are scoring goals and taking the weight off of the defense that struggled towards the end of last season. They also have two road wins, including breaking D.C.'s 19 game unbeaten streak.

You can't make the playoffs through the first month of the season, but they are fixing the problems that kept them out last year. Playoff teams get results on the road and win at home. 

That's the recipe that the Crew are following.

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