Berhalter and Parkhurst say Columbus are focused on 2016, not looking back
Almost three months have passed since Columbus Crew SC watched the Portland Timbers celebrate their 2015 MLS Cup win at Mapfre Stadium in Ohio's capital, but for Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst, time hasn't made the loss any easier to swallow.
"It's still fresh in the mind," Parkhurst told ESPN FC ahead of Sunday's rematch in Oregon (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) on the opening day of the 2016 MLS campaign. "The new season has come upon us real quick."
Nobody is looking forward to it more than Parkhurst. The 2015 final was the former U.S. national team defender's fourth career MLS Cup defeat -- he lost three straight between 2005-07 as a member of New England Revolution -- and the three trophies he won in Denmark with Nordsjaelland don't make the disappointment of last December any less acute.
That's not to say that Sunday's game is about retribution.
"There's no revenge to be had because if we win the game, we're not taking a trophy home with us," Parkhurst said. "It'll be tough to watch them celebrate and raise their banner or get their rings or whatever, no doubt.
"So yes, we want to go there and ruin the party," he added. "It's not going to make us feel any better about last year, but it'll be nice to rain on their parade a little bit if were able to do that. And we'd love to start the season on a positive note."
Columbus has as good a chance of winning a title as any team this year. Crew SC may have narrowly missed out in 2015 -- a loss that was to a large degree self-inflicted after a pair of early errors gifted the Timbers a 2-0 lead -- but the experience has left Gregg Berhalter's team battle-hardened and hungry for another shot at glory.
"It's a learning process," Berhalter said in a phone interview earlier this week. "We're going to be a better team for that loss."
They're already a more experienced one; every starter from a year ago returns, including star striker Kei Kamara, who recently inked a long-term contract. Midfielders Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp (U.S.) and defender Waylon Francis (Costa Rica) have already played games with their national teams early this year and arrived in camp close to peak fitness as a result.
Columbus also added Danish international winger Emil Larsen and proven MLS vets Corey Ashe and Connor Casey this winter. Their only significant departures were reserves Chris Klute and Jack McInerney, both of whom ended up in Portland.
"I think this year we have a slightly deeper team," Berhalter said. "It's going to be interesting to see how some of the new guys can push the envelope and fight for positions."
The coach's high-risk, high-reward game plan won't change much, however.
"We might give up some goals, but are going to score a ton ourselves," Parkhurst said. "We're striving for consistency and also that maturation from last year, knowing that we want to play our style as much as possible but when it's time to grind out results and play a little bit of long ball, we can."
As was the case last year, the focus will be on the process more than the results. Still, the aim is to get back to the decisive match by any means necessary. Berhalter may have taken a philosophical view since the MLS Cup loss, but that doesn't mean squandering it didn't sting. He's rewatched the 2015 final several times and knows things could've gone differently.
"One thing I've learned is that when you get these opportunities, it becomes about winning," he said. "We'll be better prepared next time."