Second leg on road doesn’t worry Berhalter
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.”