The good news is the transfer window is officially open, right?
Outside of a moment or two worth applauding for the Black & Gold, it was mostly 90 minutes of more frustration and hand-wringing for Crew SC fans.
Here’s a quick look at a few of the issues in Saturday’s loss.
The Kamara story and the real woes
Kei Kamara put the nail in the coffin on Saturday. He looked dangerous all night. But it also became increasingly clear that his absence has little to do with Columbus’ woes.
First, Ola Kamara has been tremendous. His movement has been outstanding, his touch has been good and his production is unquestionable. There are questions about whether the Black & Gold need hold-up ability up top to be successful, but they weren’t even when Kei offered that during the first stretch of the season and I’d hate to see Ola relegated to a bit part.
The season’s real story was quite obvious against New England — Columbus doesn’t do enough with its chances, doesn’t create enough really good looks, doesn’t handle the high press well, makes mistakes in the back and too often doesn’t seem to have the fight necessary.
Quantity not quality
I was a little shocked when I looked at the postgame stats. I knew Columbus won the possession battle, but was surprised to see them win the shots battle 17-13. A closer look reveals the truth though.
Five of those shots came after the 81st minute, when caution was thrown to the wind and New England was bunkering. Those are low-odds opportunities. Two other numbers shine a light on that:
Seventeen shots, one goal.
Of those 17 shots, only five were on target. It all comes back to quality, not quantity.
Other than Ola Kamara’s dangerous movement, there’s next to nothing being created. Ethan Finlay had a nice chance early in the game, but other than that got on the ball in the box one time. And no one else was doing more.
New England needed only three shots on goal to score three times. Maybe that’s lucky. But...
At some point "luck" has to become a smaller part of the equation for the Black & Gold. At some point the team has to take responsibility for changing its luck.
The defensive mess
The transfer window is open and Crew SC desperately needs a starting caliber center back, because by the time Gaston Sauro is healthy enough to play 90 minutes, it’s looking like the season will be sunk.
Saturday saw a vintage Columbus defensive performance, circa 2015 pre-Sauro. And that’s not a good thing.
Certainly, the attrition at center back is not helping. Gregg Berhalter made the decision to go with Chad Barson rather than Rodrigo Saravia this week, and whether one would have worked out better than the other is unclear, but it didn’t go well. Barson got roasted by Kei Kamara numerous times, like this:
He got bailed out there by no penalty kick call. He got bailed out another time when Barson tripped up and Kamara got called for a foul (not a call that would have been made every time). The mismatch was evident.
But the whole defense was not sharp.
Goal No. 1:
Will Trapp (who will want to forget this game in general, minus one tremendous pass) and Justin Meram are both marking the same space on the field ... A space that includes no Revolution players. Meanwhile, Lee Nguyen, the most dangerous New England attacker, is left totally unmarked at the top of the 18-yard box.
Goal No. 2:
How Kelyn Rowe is able to make a run from that deep and just waltz through everyone is a bit mind-boggling. Meram stops running with the winger and passes him off to Trapp, who is busy watching Kamara on the far side and is way too late to recognize Rowe’s run. Despite all that, the defense had an opportunity to kill this opportunity dead when the ball-side defenders appeared to step up. The problem is Waylon Francis does not step up on the far side, keeping Kamara onside for a return pass.
Goal No. 3 (watch at your own discretion):
In my archive of streaming clips, this one is titled "Defensive clownshow vs. NER."
The high press — always the high press — ravages Columbus yet again, creating a turnover in a bad spot. Then, when Waylon Francis shoves down Teal Bunbury, everyone just seems to stop caring about the ball for some reason. Everyone except Kei Kamara, who takes advantage when Black & Gold defenders finally decide their job is to clear the ball, and Barson ultimately kicks Francis.
The game was there for Columbus
Despite all the bad things that happened on Saturday, there was a time when there was a window of opportunity for Crew SC. Kamara’s goal late in the first half made the score 2-1, and despite giving up two goals in the first half, that’s a manageable score line. Use that momentum to open the second half strong, make an adjustment or two and try to walk out of Foxborough with a point.
But after a solid but not great first 10-15 minutes of the second half, it all just faded away. Columbus missed a couple of half-chances in that time and New England gathered some momentum back, ultimately getting the back-breaking goal.
In the interest of not being entirely negative though, here’s the Ola goal that provided that hope. It’s exactly the kind of goal that Crew SC needs to be scoring with its current personnel.
Of course, the sea of space and time in front of Tchani is helpful, as are Brad Knighton’s weak hands on the save attempt, but you get the idea.
Making time for turf
There are no excuses, and there were plenty of issues with Saturday’s performance. Yet late in the first half, New England TV play-by-play announcer Brad Feldman (I got the Revolution broadcast on MLS Live) mentioned how Crew SC looked decidedly less comfortable on the turf than New England.
It made me cringe. Mostly because this should be a non-issue. Yes, turf is terrible. Yes, it can be tricky to play on. Yes, I wish the stuff was abolished. But it’s not going anywhere and every team has to deal with it.
Still, in a season when any extra boost would be a welcome one, it seems worth questioning why Gregg Berhalter refuses to ever practice his team on turf in prep of games that will be played on the surface. Especially when the turf problem continue to rear its head for Columbus.
BONUS: A reason to laugh
If you are an MLS Live subscriber, you get a chance to listen to a whole array of television broadcasters. Some are better than others.
Some need to learn that you don’t always need to say something just to say something.
Columbus fans didn’t have much to laugh about on Saturday, but I got to chuckle midway through the first half when I heard New England color analyst Paul Mariner refer to referee Mark Geiger, saying, "Geiger doesn’t want to be the show."
Now, I know Mariner has seen a lot of MLS games in his lifetime, but in that moment I had to question if he was ever really paying attention.
The same Mark Geiger who has made "Welcome to the Gieger show" an official entry in the MLS lexicon. The same Mark Geiger who went on to hand out five yellow cards in Saturday’s game (many of them questionable).
So, for one moment, I found the humor in Saturday’s game.