They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.
Saturday night's 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy saw both bright spots and more troublesome moments for Columbus Crew SC. Here are some reactions to the result. Agree? Disagree? Share your own in the comments section below.
The good news is...
The Black & Gold entered the game without a point in six tries when conceding the first goal. They finally broke that spell on Saturday. Obviously giving up the first goal is not what you want, but good teams figure out ways to prevail even against adversity. You're not always going to get the first goal, but that can't determine the outcome. A really bad first 20 minutes and a pretty poor first half overall saw things change in the second half. There were still issues after the break, but Columbus controlled the game during the second 45 minutes and found a way to get a point. It's something Crew SC fans have been waiting all season to see.
The bad news is...
Columbus is still looking at at least two months between victories. That's a long drought and not one that's conducive to the goals that the club and its fans have for this season. It's something that can easily be overcome, but not a trend that can continue for long. There were still some recurring, negative issues that popped up — a struggle for portions of the game to dictate the game in the desired fashion, a disconnect on defense and poor giveaways in midfield.
Speaking of disconnect...
So much of what has been exciting about Berhalter's tenure has been the offensive play of the Black & Gold. Even when the goals weren't there, there was always the possession-oriented, ball-on-the-ground, flowing attack. But that attack has been out of sync. One of my first-half notes was that Columbus was not playing quick enough in possession, waiting a step too long to pass the ball or a step too long to make a run off the ball. Then, going into the break, Mohamed Saeid said the same thing himself — "We need to play quicker."
That was better in the second half, but there were still signs that players weren't always on the same page. Right out of the locker room, in the 46th minute or so, Crew SC pushed into the attacking third and Waylon Francis whipped a cross into the middle to... nobody. Francis had plenty of time on the ball to assess the situation, and he had actually received the ball on a pass from Kei Kamara, who had dropped to the left wing. So even though it appeared obvious there was no quality target in the middle of the box, Francis slung the ball into that space. It was wasted possession in the attacking third.
There have just been too many moments like that.
First-half defensive issues
The problem Crew SC has had during its recent stretch is that the defense just seems to be on different pages once or twice a game, and it's cost the Black & Gold, especially considering they haven't possessed the ball as well as they had in the first stretch of the campaign. That defensive disconnect was evident once again in the first half.
On a number of occasions the back line didn't seem comfortable playing out of the back, and considering that's a top priority for Gregg Berhalter's scheme, that mucks up the works. There was indecision on a chance or two early on, and then an opportunity for Los Angeles in the 34th minute when the defense was on its heels and Baggio Husidic should have taken a shot, but got too fancy with a pass and let the chance get away. That could have easily been another black mark on the defense.
Moments later one of those pesky midfield giveaways (from Parkhurst) that have plagued Columbus as of late put Jose Villarreal on the break. He managed to draw the attention of four Crew SC defenders, who he chipped to a wide open Husidic six yards out from goal. He should have finished but, luckily for the home side, did not. Why was Husidic so unmarked? Because everyone started ball watching and hedging toward Villareal, ignoring the player who was making the adjacent run. There was no defensive rotation, Tony Tchani floated at the top of the box too long instead of recognizing the failure and a vulnerability was exposed again.
And the Los Angeles goal was a combination of heads up play by the Galaxy and poor team defense by Crew SC. Ethan Finlay fails to make the defensive play on the touchline and Saeid is playing flat with Tchani in the defensive midfield. Saeid is cheating toward Juninho deep in the midfield, which Robbie Rogers sees and immediately exploits the space behind him. Then, despite the fact that three players in black collapse on Rogers at the top of the box, none can make a play on the ball. At the same time, Michael Parkhurst is marking Sebastian Letget but still focusing on Rogers...which is why he is forced to lunge a bit, which Letget reads perfectly to create space for a shot.
That's a long description, but the point is this — there were a lot of Columbus players that didn't stop that play from happening.
A picture perfect goal
Despite the many criticisms that can be laid at the feet of the Black & Gold as of late, their goal on Saturday was Berhalter Crew at its best. It started with Tchani making a beautiful pass down the right wing to Finlay, who pushed into the corner and then made a diagonal pass back into the box to a running Federico Higuain to put away.
It wasn't fancy but it was smooth, it was decisive, it started out of the back and the ball stayed on the ground. Certainly Columbus was helped by Leonardo's poor decision to go to ground to attempt to slide tackle the ball away from Finlay, but that decision was massaged by Tchani's pass, which forced Leonardo to defend far wider than he wants to.
The thing that I noticed as much as anything (OK, maybe not more than Tchani's ball), was how Crew SC had won back possession in the first place. About one minute before the goal was scored, it was Higuain who tracked back to dispossess the Galaxy. Although the ball was pinged around a bit before Pipa ultimately scored the goal, it was his defensive play that put things in motion.
Columbus ended the game with quite a different look
There has been a constant question for this Crew SC side regarding what happens when their modus operandi does not result in control of the game; when the Black & Gold find themselves trailing and needing answers. Mostly, we haven't seen adjustments, unless they were forced by red cards. But last night Berhalter went with a different look than, as far as I can recall, we've seen thus far this season.
The weather delay had me up past my bedtime, so my brain wasn't quite functioning right when I tried to tweet about the different look, but what it amounted to was a 4-3-1-2 after Aaron Schoenfeld was subbed on for Finlay. We already know there's no major change in the cards, and the club doesn't have a second striker good enough to warrant enough playing time to make major use of the formation (though we can all hope for some cover at striker in this summer transfer window), but it intrigued me nonetheless and brought the "Plan B" discussion back to the forefront of my mind. It's lopsided in practice, more of a 4-2-2-2 going forward, but with the way the fullbacks get into the attack it could be a useful look when Columbus needs to score, keeps Higuain in a natural playmaking position and would still provide some defensive cover. Lots of reasons it wouldn't work over major swaths of time, but was still interesting, nonetheless.