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6-Thought Box: A decisive moment allows Crew SC to escape the ugliness against Houston

There wasn't much worth remembering from Saturday's 1-0 win over the Dynamo, but a win is a win. We try to find the silver lining beyond three points.

DeMarcus Beasley and Federico Higuain emobdy our thoughts in their facial expressions — Saturday wasn't pretty.
DeMarcus Beasley and Federico Higuain emobdy our thoughts in their facial expressions — Saturday wasn't pretty.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Not exactly one for the annals. Columbus Crew SC scrapped out a slow-moving, often frustrating 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in a contest most won't care to remember.

Three points on the other hand, are a welcome relief, even if they didn't come in the "style" column. Two games in a row now the Black & Gold have taken maximum points, and although the performances weren't perfect and there are far truer tests ahead, everyone gets to pull their hand away from the panic button for at least a little bit.

Here are some thoughts after Saturday's result.

Not living up to expectations

This looked like it had the opportunity to be a wide open matchup between two teams that wanted to attack and that have had varying degrees of defensive success. That's not what happened.

Instead, this was the definition of pragmatism. Houston came in and clearly was playing to frustrate Columbus and try to nab something on the counter. Crew SC, meanwhile, was very smart about its response to that, which may not have added up to exciting soccer, but it did add up to three points in the standings, and right now, that's all that matters.

Houston's changes

We already expected the Dynamo to make changes coming into the game. That came in the form of a 4-1-4-1, with Giles Barnes as the lone striker. In many  ways it made a lot of sense.

Barnes gave the visiting side speed up top, but also the ability to drop deep and get on the ball. Those things trumped traditional hold up play that Will Bruin may have given Houston.

Collen Warner then came in to provide a traditional defensive midfield role, and both Alex and Ricardo Clark — who had been playing in the deep-lying roles during a stretch when shape and the connection between the defense and the midfield were issues — played higher up on the field. This gave the Dynamo more balance vertically, it seemed, and smoother connection from front to back (defensively, not offensively). And, had they bothered attacking, Andrew Wenger and Oscar Boniek Garcia were natural options to push up as attacking wingers.

Of course, verticality wasn't really a part of Saturday's story, because Houston bunkered from the start, with 11 men behind the ball at most times. Then a 19th-minute red card ensured that would continue, and there were nine or 10 men behind the ball at all times. There wasn't really an opportunity to get stretched.

The result was Columbus remained unable to break inside the final 15 yards in the attacking third, and the attack suffered.


For a team that, at it's best, is flying up the field and creating opportunities while generating 15-20 shots a game, this was a frustrating outing to watch as a spectator. To say the Black & Gold dominated the stat sheet would be an understatement. Possession at 70 percent while holding Houston to just four shots; connecting on 80 percent of their passes; compiling twice as many touches. Yet the Dynamo slowed the game to nearly a crawl with their shape and bunker.

Columbus remained patient. That's a positive. It would have been easy to get frustrated, try to force the issue and make unnecessary turnovers while getting caught up field and giving Houston just enough opportunities on the counter to put one in and steal at least a point, if not more.

On the other hand...

We've still yet to see Gregg Berhalter's Black & Gold successfully break down a bunker. Not every team wants to park the bus, but when teams have been willing to sit back, keep numbers behind the ball and absorb pressure, it's been a crap shoot whether or not Columbus is able to bust things. Too often it's simply led to ugly games and mediocre results.

Obviously that's what the bunker is designed to do. But a lot of the early-season talk has been whether or not teams have "figured out" Crew SC. There have been things that have been problematic for Columbus — breaking down bunkers and playing clean under high defensive pressure. In order for the club to take another step forward, it needs to evolve to find ways to (even momentarily) close up the loopholes other teams have found. It's been talked about before, but we're still talking about it.

More explosive attacking would have helped. Too often when it's constantly holding the ball, Columbus is methodical. It works to win possession, but it allows the defense to get in position. Attacks out of explosive moves, rather than slow ones, would likely help generate a few more quality looks against a deep-lying team. We saw it for a moment late in the game when Kamara was ruled offside to nullify a goal, but it was a rare instance of quick movement, both physically and with the ball.


For the first month of the season we wondered what was going on with all the new offseason signings who were AWOL, some with injury, some with mystery. Finally we're seeing those players integrated into the lineup.

Ola Kamara made his second and longest appearance of the season, and the first time we've seen him on the field at the same time as Kei Kamara, which is something all fans were curious about. I thought it was a promising 27 minutes. Although the newer Kamara slotted into Ethan Finlay's spot, he is, obviously, a different type of player, though he did occupy a wide role here. He did, however, look for touches inside the area. I'm not sure he'll do enough defensive work to play extended minutes wide, but as a sub in the right situations (especially one where the opponent was hardly trying to get up the field) it can work.

Rodrigo Saravia also made his debut (yes, he officially got an appearance last week, but we'll ignore a sub appearance in the final minute of stoppage time). Even with the way the game was playing, it still is a positive sign that Berhalter trusted the rookie in a one-goal game.

And it's not a new face, but the Wil Trapp and Mohammed Saeid pairing in defensive midfield is still in its early stages, and it continued to develop as the two interchanged roles more than they had in the past. Trapp spent more time higher up the field while Saeid sometimes dropped between the center backs to build out of the back — a role that, when he was on the field, has been exclusively Trapp's, regardless of who he's partnered with.

One moment

One of the few moments of truly quick attacking resulted in the one decisive moment of the game:

This moment gave Crew SC a goal on a platter on a day when it didn't seem to have any other answers. If a red card is issued anywhere but in the box, this is probably a scoreless draw. But it wasn't.

Instead, Kei Kamara finishes a PK relatively early in the game, Columbus gets to play with a lead and it allows the Black & Gold the luxury of displaying patience later in the game, even when there was no breakthrough.

And for a team that was already prepared to sit deep, going down a man tied its hands — it was going to take a major Crew SC gaffe to change this one.

That didn't happen. Instead, it was just a slow, ugly win — the kind Columbus doesn't always get.