It seems that the second home game of the season, traditionally, is not well attended. Saturday's match between the Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union was no exception, with a sparse crowd of 10,293 watching the teams play to a 1-1 draw. On a day when the weather was at least 30 degrees warmer than the home opener, the lack of bodies in the stands was puzzling. Likewise, the locker room was sparsely populated by the time the media were granted access.
With a bye week under their belts, you would think the team would be refreshed and full of energy. Alas, this was not the case. The Crew couldn't seem to get themselves out of first gear for the first 30 minutes, at home, in front of their supporters. It left many scratching their heads. Philly, meanwhile, took advantage of this listlessness from the Crew and made numerous runs, getting behind the Columbus backline.
Head Coach Robert Warzycha wasn't pleased with the way they played the first half. "I think it’s difficult to explain why we started the game like we started. I think the last seventeen years we were trying to be the team that started the game the right way, especially at home, and go and put the pressure [on the other team] and win games. Maybe that’s why sometimes we were not successful because we gave up the first goal, and that’s what happened in previous years."
Philadelphia made the Crew pay for their complacency in the 34th minute. A turnover by Columbus led to a Union three-on-one, with the Hebrew Hammer being that "one". Facing three possible points of attack, he didn't have much of a chance of stopping it, with McInerney reaching the back of the net. There was a hesitation from the Crew defenders as they looked to the refs for an offside call. The question is, why do the players on the pitch not play to the whistle? That hesitation led to the Union goal and, once again, the Crew found themselves chasing the match.
"You have to look at practice, maybe the bye week threw us off a little bit because we were in good form when we played against D.C. The second half we changed the formation a little bit, but mostly we had a little more energy. We started to play, chase the guys, win 50/50s – we had a little bit more idea of how we play."
Columbus had their chances, although the finishing touches weren't there. Oduro, Speas and Gaven all had a chance to tie the match before the half. Unfortunately, they couldn't convert. Warzycha on those chances, "We had three opportunities to score goals. So, we did some good things in the first half. But, the energy level was not good."
The second half started with a Columbus substitution, Arrieta on for Viana. With Oduro starting the match as the striker, Arrieta was relegated to watching the match from the bench. Was this a "sign" from Warzycha that complacency will not be tolerated and a players spot in the starting XI must be earned? Jairo Arrieta on not starting, "I had a conversation with Robert [Warzycha] and obviously I came here to be a starter like every player. Robert decided to go with another player. I accepted the decision of the coach and what I need to do now is work harder and try to convince the coach, Robert, that I can be the starter the next game. If not, I need to keep working hard until I get the chance again."
With Oduro and Speas playing well the last few matches, they have earned their starting spot. Might this portend a changing philosophy by the head coach in who starts each match and has he put them "on notice"? Robert Warzycha obliquely addressed this issue. "In the first half I think the guys got too comfortable, maybe, playing four games, some of them. They're thinking that they're going to be on the field all the time. That's not the case." Hard work will be rewarded is the message being sent.
The Black and Gold got the equalizer in the 72nd minute as Danny O'Rourke wins the ball in the Union end and then finds Gaven. He makes a sublime pass to Oduro, who positively smashes the ball past Union 'keeper MacMath on the near post. Dominic Oduro on his goal, "I saw Eddie [Gaven], we made eye contact, I made the movement and he made the right pass. I was just praying for glory, hitting the ball from that angle. I was hoping that it would go off somebody to tuck it in. I'm glad it went in."
That's the way the match would end, a 1-1 draw and one solitary point. The stand-out was the two-way play of Eddie Gaven. Coming off an injury prior to the DC United match, he had the bye week to fully heal. Although he missed finishing a chance, he was a man on a mission, seemingly all over the field. On more than one occasion, he bailed out the defense by coming back to make a play for the ball.
With Ben Speas playing opposite of Eddie Gaven and "Freaky Fast" Oduro up front, the options open up for Higuain to orchestrate the attack. The only thing that would be more "deadly", would be to have both Oduro and Arrieta up front to start the match. With Higuain being double-teamed on a constant basis, a two-striker front would be very hard for the opposition to defend against. For this to work, the communication must be much better than it was in the first half against the Union. Will we see this formation in the near future? I put the odds at 60/40 against this happening.
Chad Marshall played his 20,000 minute (coming in the 59th minute), becoming the first Crew player to reach that milestone. He joins a very small list (four players, including him) to have played all 20,000 minutes with one club. Congratulations to you, Good Sir.
With the draw, Columbus sits at 2-1-2 on the season in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. They begin a two game road trip next week that starts in Montreal. The Impact are the hot team right now and the Crew need to start from the first touch with their guns blazing. Smart passing, keeping possession and above all, communication to keep Montreal at bay. These "keys" should earn them three points north of the border.