I have to wonder how many fans the Crew cost themselves Saturday night. The stadium was fuller than I've seen in a long time, and a hated rival was in town for a match crucial to the playoff race. But rather than rise to the occassion, the team sabotaged itself in nearly every conceivable way.

After watching the team go down 2-0 to the evil and hated DC United, it was hard not to feel hopeless. I didn't even attend the postgame press conference; I had to escape that miserable environment post-haste. I wanted to hurry away to enjoy a night of bar hopping, local music and hanging out with friends who hadn't been poisoned by what I just saw. And until I made that great escape, I wanted to punch my roommate just for the hell of it.

The team that seemed to be improving with every match as recently as four weeks ago now looked utterly clueless out there. Allow me to elaborate on these woes:

I have to wonder how many fans the Crew cost themselves Saturday night. The stadium was fuller than I've seen in a long time, and a hated rival was in town for a match crucial to the playoff race. But rather than rise to the occassion, the team sabotaged itself in nearly every conceivable way.

After watching the team go down 2-0 to the evil and hated DC United, it was hard not to feel hopeless. I didn't even attend the postgame press conference; I had to escape that miserable environment post-haste. I wanted to hurry away to enjoy a night of bar hopping, local music and hanging out with friends who hadn't been poisoned by what I just saw. And until I made that great escape, I wanted to punch my roommate just for the hell of it.

The team that seemed to be improving with every match as recently as four weeks ago now looked utterly clueless out there. Allow me to elaborate on these woes:

•Coach Sigi Schmid sent a perplexing lineup onto the pitch, setting the team up for a strange night right away. Ricardo Virtuoso must be killing in practice because based on his rare performances, he should be below Robbie Rogers, Andy Herron and Eddie Gaven on the depth chart. (And that's saying a lot given Gaven's highly inconsistent performance this season.) But Schmid gave Virtuoso the go, and he proceded to unveil a large collection of stepovers and other trickery without actually advancing the ball forward. Earlier this season, in the extremely limited occasions when Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Herron and Alejandro Moreno were on the field together, they made magic. With Herron healthy and few Crew attackers looking particularly potent, I don't understand why they can't reconvene that combination. Meanwhile, Schmid's biggest blunder came on the defensive end. With one central defender (Chad Marshall) out nursing an injury, Schmid decided to rest the other (Marcos Gonzalez), leading to...

•...Ezra Hendrickson's huge mistake. The Crew was already down 1-0 when Hendrickson provided an assist to DC's Luciano Emilio. Although he's no longer a bona fide starter, the super-sized Crew defender is a veteran and one of the team's captains, and there's really no excuse for him to be tapping a ball right to the league goal-scoring leader in front of a gaping goalmouth.

•Of the starting lineup, only Frankie Hejduk, Danny O'Rourke and (sometimes) Schelotto seemed to care when the team fell behind, and even they performed poorly. To their credit, Gaven, Duncan Oughton and Jason Garey played their hearts out as subs. Still, the overall lack of urgency was disheartening.

•Danny Szetela continues to look lost in midfield. It's time to bring Oughton back into the starting lineup or find a solid left back and let Stefani Miglioranzi back into midfield.

•DC was playing its fourth game in 13 days, yet it was the Crew who looked winded throughout the second half.

•As usual, Columbus faltered in front of the net, squandering one scoring opportunity after another by failing to connect on crosses, blasting balls over the crossbar and simply failing to get off a decent shot. The team hasn't had a serious goal-scoring threat since it foolishly unloaded Jeff Cunningham after the 2004 season. Not coincidentally, it also hasn't made the playoffs since. Until this problem is addressed, Columbus will continue to fall prey to teams like DC with dangerous strikers like Emilio.

Besides causing me to stew about what that all means for the rest of this season, the way those factors played out Saturday has me wondering what kind of ripple effect this game will have among the fan base, especially among newcomers or fairweather fans. 21,639 people attended the match Saturday night—about 50 percent more than usual. Some of them bought tickets to see David Beckham next month and so had to buy tickets for two other games. Others were there in response to positive buzz about the Crew's killer June and July. (Chastise those fairweather fans all you want, but MLS needs them to survive.) Most of these new fans left with a bad taste in their mouths, and they probably went home and told their family and friends about what a pathetic product the Crew peddled on Saturday night. Wasted opportunities like these don't bode well for the legitimacy of the Crew in the mind of the average Columbus sports fan. But frankly, I can't blame any of these newbies for giving up on the Crew. If that was my first trip to Crew Stadium, it's not likely I would come back either. In fact, I don't blame dedicated fans who are ready to jump ship after that deflating debacle.

Has the hyperbole smothered you yet? If we take a moment to stop and breathe, we'll notice that the Crew is a well-established entity in town and that with a couple wins, their PR crusade will be back on track. As for the team's new two-game losing streak and its effect on the rest of the season, a lot can happen in the next two months, and the playoff chase is by no means doomed. Still, it's funny how quickly fortunes turn. A month ago, the Crew was the hottest team in MLS. Now, in the midst of highly explosive circumstances, they couldn't even get fired up. While it's not time to give up on this season yet, it is time to be very, very worried.