It was as bad a performance as we've seen from Columbus Crew SC this season. There have been some sluggish road efforts, but this was the first time that the Black & Gold were embarrassed off the field. That it happened against a burgeoning rival like Orlando City SC, or that it was a critical Eastern Conference game, only makes it worse.
But because I'm going to have nightmares about that defending for some time, I'm going to make everyone relive it with me, so I am not alone.
Here are some thought's after a 5-2 loss to the Lions on Saturday. Share your own in the comments section.
A shining example
I have seen people — either very casual Crew SC fans or supporters of other teams — ask "What gives with Columbus this season? Why are they so inconsistent? Why are the fans so frustrated?" Well, good news, folks! Now all you need to do is put on the highlight reel of this game.
Saturday's loss to Orlando City was a shining example of everything that has gone wrong for Columbus this season. In fact, I saved the clip posted just below under the title, "PROTOTYPE DEFENSIVE #&$!UP"
The defense is a mess, but up until now it seemed to manage to hold things together enough that there was only one or two mistakes a game that led to goals. Against the Lions there were four or five.
OCSC's second goal just before halftime gave it a lead that held for the rest of the game. It was also a microcosm of the Black & Gold's defense in 2015.
For your viewing displeasure (at half speed):
Yes, I slowed down the video, but that's not the reason why the Crew SC defense looks so slow to react.
This goal perfectly displays what has gone wrong defensively this season — Gregg Berhalter's system, while attractive to watch a lot of the time, is vulnerable; and the back line just has not been able to compensate for that vulnerability.
Although the eventual goal is slow to develop, it all starts on the counter, which leaves the fullbacks caught up the field. Waylon Francis is nowhere to be seen on his side of the field, and (as is often the case with him) he tracks back as if it's optional, waiting until it's clear there's a definite goal threat to turn on the jets. We never see him in this play.
Meanwhile, Kaka takes the ball into the corner, where Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl seem momentarily unsure of which should continue marking him. It's not the reason for the goal, but it's a sign of things to come, and with no fullback in the picture the defense gets stretched out of shape.
Kaka's first ball into the box is blocked by Wahl, and this is where it all goes terribly wrong. Everyone just seems to relax. It's as if the entire defense just assumes the ball is going to magically clear itself out of trouble. While everyone takes a breath, Darwin Ceren waltzes into a space the size of the Pacific Ocean. Everyone is watching Kaka on the ball and three different players fail to quickly react to Ceren — Trapp (in a CB position at this point), Tony Tchani (at the top of the box) and Justin Meram (who has come back in Francis' stead but is still cheating toward midfield).
After Ceren's shot is blocked, everyone is (AGAIN) showing body language that says, "Glad that's over." Nobody moves to address a rebound or Ceren, who's still only about eight or 10 yards from goal. And he smacks it into the net.
The TL;DR version of that — nobody seemed to be sharp in positioning or engaged in the moment. Goal scored.
Where is the urgency?
It all comes down to this. Which is why I tweeted this during the second half:
So, there were seven total of seven goals, but that's not the point. "It's on the road" is not an excuse. That makes it tougher to win, yes, but it shouldn't dictate terrible performances. And if it does, well, it's one of many hard questions to be asked of the coaching staff at this point.
It's often said that some teams take on the personality of their coaches. This one definitely presents its self the same way Berhalter does — promising and occasionally charming, but lacking in zeal and passion (at least to onlookers).
Unbutton the collar a little and get invested. This team has no trouble showing emotion when it swarms an official after a call it doesn't like. How about showing that more during the run of play.
Only two true attackers
Let's put this in perspective — a team that put only two true attackers in the starting lineup scored five goals on Columbus. Kaka and Cyle Larin were the only true attacking players in Orlando City's starting 11. Even the fullbacks (who did get involved) were not A.J. Ramos-level attackers. The wingers (although not orthodox from the start) were Luke Boden, who made all 13 of his previous appearances this season at fullback, and Darwin Ceren, who made all 16 of his previous appearances this season in defensive midfield. He sometimes rotated with Servando Carrasco, another defensive midfielder.
Orlando City made its living thanks to Kaka's gravity, Larin's movement and athleticism around the box and Corey Ashe bombing down the left side. Ashe had two assists on the game and created more chances than that. We're talking about a guy who made a name for himself as a hard-working, two-way player, but not an attacking genius. (FWIW, WhoScored.com lists one of his weaknesses as crossing. Tell that to the Crew SC center back pairing that could not clear out his balls in to the box.)
Positional awareness (or lack thereof)
Sometimes the Black & Gold give up goals because they get caught up field. Other times it's just because the defense seems to lack awareness in a big way.
We saw more of the same thing we've seen all season — attackers finding space in between the two center backs. That should be not be happening as regularly as it is. Even with zonal marking, the space should not be there. Defenders may be responsible for a zone, but they're also responsible for the attackers that enter it. The problem appears to be that the defense is paying attention only to when/where the ball is coming into their zone, but not necessarily the men that are entering it. There has to be awareness of who is making runs where, and defenders have to be prepared to handle that. Too often, they are not.
Here's Aurelien Collin's headed goal off a corner kick. How is it that a team's most dangerous aerial set piece target is completely unmarked, weaving through four Black & Gold defenders? In a zonal set piece scheme defenders should be in charge of the area in front of them, yet Collin slips right in front of two or three players and no one ever makes an attempt to block or disrupt his run, let alone contest the header.
Then there are more issues on Christian Higuita's headed goal. Again, Parkhurst and Wahl get split wide and Higuita just floats into the gaping hole. This, however, is probably on Kei Kamara. Whether you're man marking or zonally marking, that appears to be his man/zone. The initial reaction by many was, "At least someone is trying to defend," after Kamara's late scramble to get to Higuita, but I believe he should have been there the whole way, but got lost watching Kaka on the ball.
It all comes back to knowing what's going on around you on defense.
Also, it doesn't exactly fall into the category of awareness, but Ashe created four great goal-scoring opportunities with low crosses from the left that the center backs failed to get a foot on, despite appearing to be in a position to do so. Two of those opportunities went into the net. It's just not good enough.
Gut check time
It's a pretty big cliche to call something a "gut check," but it feels like that. We've talked over the past few months about turning points, and having to build some consistency or risk getting lost in a tight Eastern Conference race. But this feels like a big moment. It's not just about a loss, it's about getting embarrassed. It's about the deficiencies being so blatantly obvious, even to someone who watched Crew SC for the first time on Saturday.
It's time for the coaching staff to either do more to hold players accountable or begin being held accountable themselves.