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6-Thought Box: Crew SC mixed bag versus New York City

Columbus managed a mostly uninspiring draw in a midweek meeting with NYCFC. These are some of our takeaways.

Columbus midfielder Justin Meram turns on the ball as New York City FC's Kwadwo Poku challenges. Poku scored twice in a 2-2 draw Wednesday.
Columbus midfielder Justin Meram turns on the ball as New York City FC's Kwadwo Poku challenges. Poku scored twice in a 2-2 draw Wednesday.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC had never played New York City FC before. Until Wednesday. Check that one off the bucket list.

That's about all Black & Gold fans can do after a 2-2 midweek draw that had a couple of bright moments but mostly left a residual feeling of "meh" and a result that doesn't do anything to reaffirm/shake up the Eastern Conference standings.

Massive Report writers Matt Weisbarger and Josh Mlot join forces to share their thoughts on the match, so we can all feel "meh" together. Share your opinions in the comments section below.

This...

A lack of 90-minute energy, killer instinct and consistency has frustrated Crew SC fans this season. But, once again, everything has context. Here's a little:

That's why they're still in the top echelon of the Eastern Conference standings. This, loud and clear, speaks to the expectations fans have this year — MLS Cup. This team does not look good enough to make a playoff run or play for a championship. At least not right now. And that's why people want more.

Harrison Afful belies his name

So, it's still unclear how to pronounce his name (considering the original press release said it was AH-ful, but we've since heard it pronounced every way possible, including at least two different ways on Wednesday's TV broadcast). But for the purposes of pun, we're sticking with "awful." The good news is that on Wednesday he was anything but.

It was a very small sample size — Afful came off after 60 minutes in his debut — but the signs were positive. He was much less noticeable than Hernan Grana was (in that he did not dominate the ball), but he did pop up running up the flank, seemed to link with his teammates well and showed a penchant for a quality pass in the final third of the field.

The best part was he seemed defensively responsible, not getting caught up field. Now, NYCFC doesn't play particularly wide, but he was present to help with David Villa.

There is a lot left to prove, but his quality introduction was a bright spot (and his replacement, Hector Jimenez, was at least partially responsible on New York City's second goal).

Solid defense...for 45 minutes

For all of NYCFC's question marks and deficiencies, it certainly has the ability to punish you on the attack. But for the first 45 minutes of the game, Columbus' defense looked as solid and steady as it has all season. All four defenders seemed to be on the same page — a feat, considering one had never played a game for the Black & Gold before — and everyone seemed mentally dialed in. Maybe having to handle a player like Villa does that to you, but everyone seemed prepped and together, and that was a welcome sight. It still wasn't a unit that kept it together for 90 minutes, and there are still major issues to be ironed out, but let's focus on the bright side for a moment, shall we?

Why are set pieces so bad?

It was hard to ignore this because it was harped on a good amount during the television broadcast. Columbus was really bad on set pieces, and that's going both ways (attacking and defending). Crew SC has scored just four set piece goals all season, which is second worst in the league (ironically, the bottom teams in MLS in this category also include Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC and FC Dallas, all teams you think of as having some firepower and some guys who can deliver a ball).

I understand that some teams are more naturally set up for success on set pieces, and often teams that are not good in the attack stress set pieces more — hence, they are better at them. That said, this team isn't taking advantage of all its opportunities, and they're conceding too many in this type of situation, including Kwadwo Poku's second goal on Wednesday. Proactively attacking and controlling possession is great, but if you can't defend a set piece, all the opposition needs is one or two chances.

This is an area that could be improved in practice, one would think, yet here we are two-thirds of the way through the season, and it's not pretty.

Cedrick breaks through

It took a while for Cedrick to get on the field, and then he looked mostly like fast legs. But in this game the mid-season pickup seemed much more settled in and dangerous. And he opened his Columbus goal-scoring account to save a point in this game.

Ever since his signing I've publicly expressed concern over whether Columbus had signed a more exotic version of Dominic Oduro (exotic in resume, though not as exotic in hair). Having not seen him play but having researched him a little, he seemed like a guy who could run past everyone, but couldn't finish. Early in his showings for the Black & Gold, that seemed to hold. I don't think he's going to be a great finisher, but I think he will be better in tighter spaces than Oduro. He looked good on the ball, and his goal was less about top-end speed (of which few can match Oduro) and more about explosiveness, which he showed in his passing link up with Kei Kamara. And when he got the ball and pushed forward, you could see the NYCFC back line had to respect his speed... and, at least on this night, he seemed smart enough with the ball to not make everything a track meet or a shot (a la Dom). In other words, I liked what I saw and hope it's the tip of the iceberg. Especially since Meram's consistency seems to have dropped off from the early portion of the season and Kristinn Steindorsson is still not making an impact.

The same old, same old

When it came down to it, this was typical Crew SC. Fellow Massive Report writer, Mr. Matt Weisgarber, said, "Six-Thought Boxes are getting hard at this point. The problems are the same. The things that go well are the same." That's not untrue.

Again, we saw a team that often looked very dangerous. But we also, again, saw a team that lacked energy. That was limited to the second half, but that's 45 minutes too many. Again, we saw a team that couldn't play 90 minutes of perfect defense, and despite generally appearing like they had a win in them, the Black & Gold couldn't pick up all three points because of those mistakes.

On Poku's second, go-ahead goal, it was more poor defending on a set piece. It was more ball-watching. It was more attacking space left unaccounted for.

And on Poku's first, there was more non-communication in the back. David Villa has to be respected, but if you're going to cheat, there has to be communication. After Tyson Wahl failed to make the defensive play when he stepped up, it still looked like the defense had recovered enough. But then Poku just drifts on to Wahl's shoulder and burns him. Why didn't Waylon Francis (behind Poku) indicate the attacking midfielder was coming through? Why didn't Wahl tell Francis to pick him up if he was going to help with Villa?

That said, that NYCFC goal was pretty and it showed what New York City can be at its best, I think. It was a blistering counter attack, and again Crew SC got caught unable to make a defensive play when it needed to. It was a brilliant first touch, surge and finish from Poku, but this play shows exactly what value Andrea Pirlo brings. Look at this pass through the midfield that instantly bypasses three Columbus players and drops the ball into the hole behind the midfielders and in front of the defenders, causing chaos. You've got to respect this.