Sec­ond leg on road doesn’t worry Ber­hal­ter

The Columbus Dispatch - - Sports - By Andrew Erick­son

Mo­ments af­ter his team held off New York City FC’s last charge in the sec­ond leg of the MLS East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals to ad­vance 4-3 on ag­gre­gate, Crew SC coach Gregg Ber­hal­ter pon­dered the idea of be­ing on the road vs. at home to end a two-leg se­ries.

The fourth-year Ma­jor League Soc­cer coach said he hasn’t been coach­ing long enough to have a pref­er­ence.

“I just don’t have enough ex­pe­ri­ence to know what’s bet­ter. The think­ing is if you can go on the road and maybe score a goal, keep the score­line re­spectable,

you can go home and fin­ish it off,” Ber­hal­ter said on Nov. 5. “For us, ei­ther way we’ll deal with it. Right now we have the home leg (against Toronto FC on Tues­day) first and away leg sec­ond, and we’ll deal with it.”

It’s a small sam­ple size un­der Ber­hal­ter, but the Crew has ex­pe­ri­enced life in the play­offs as both the lower seed play­ing at home first and the higher seed clos­ing out a se­ries at home, with mixed re­sults.

It lost 4-1 at home in the first leg of a 2014 con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal se­ries against New Eng­land and wound up los­ing 7-3 on ag­gre­gate. A year later, a 2-1 loss at Mon­treal in leg 1 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals was wiped away by a 3-1 home win that re­quired ex­tra time.

Its next two play­off se­ries — the 2015 East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals against the New York Red Bulls and this year's con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals against New York City FC — both in­volved a multi­goal win at home fol­lowed by de­fen­sive pos­ture late in the sec­ond leg to close out an ag­gre­gate win. The Crew de­feated New York City 4-1 in the first leg Oct. 31.

“We set the tempo in that New York City first leg, so it’s nice to be at home in the first leg," de­fender Hec­tor Jimenez said. "I don’t know. If you can build a lead, (it helps). The away goals count, so if you go there you just need one or maybe you get a tie or some­thing like that, but it doesn’t mat­ter to me. As long as we show up and win the game, that’s the most im­por­tant thing.”

Based on the club’s play­off his­tory, the fifth-seeded Crew might be bet­ter off not head­ing to top-seeded Toronto un­til the sec­ond leg. The Crew ad­vanced from the knock­out round in At­lanta on penalty kicks but has not won a road play­off game out­right since 2002.

The Crew is also 13-2-1 in play­off games when scor­ing first, some­thing it has done in 12 of 18 home games this sea­son, in­clud­ing the play­offs.

“Maybe, look­ing back on it, it would be nice if we’re com­ing home (for the sec­ond leg),” Ber­hal­ter said. “But the way I look at it, it is what it is. We’ve dealt with that sit­u­a­tion (of clos­ing out a se­ries on the road) and I’m glad we dealt with it.”

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