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6-Thought Box: The absence of many things, including a Crew SC victory against shorthanded Toronto

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There was no Sebastian Giovinco, but TFC still took a point from a Columbus side with few answers. Here are some thoughts.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Not feeling any better, Columbus Crew SC fans? It’s hard to blame you.

Another week, another disappointing result. At home against a Toronto FC squad that was missing more top-level players than most teams have to begin with, the Black & Gold let a second-half lead slip away, settling for a 1-1 draw.

What went wrong? How do we digest more disappointment? Here are some thoughts on the game.

The absence(s)

I came into this game thinking 1-1 draw. Of course, I also expected Sebastian Giovinco.

It’s hard to say that one player can completely change expectations, but that’s the case with the reigning MLS MVP. On a team also missing all of its important names — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Will Johnson, Steven Beitashour, Clint Irwin — yes, the additional absence of Lil Sebastian changes things immensely.

When the starting 11s were released, all of a sudden this looked like a game that Columbus should, by all rights, be able to use to vault toward something better; to build some momentum.

The fact that, despite all that, Crew SC still had to settle for only a point at home while struggling with the same things they have all season ... well, yes, it could have been worse, but it sure as hell could have been a lot better. Or even a little.

Duka as a No. 10

This isn’t to write Dilly Duka off as a solid fill-in at the central attacking midfield spot during the absence of Federico Higuain, but it is to say that we continue to realize how important Pipa is/was to things.

Duka wasn’t terrible. He provided attacking support, was OK with the ball at his feet and helped pressure when Toronto played the ball out of the back. But he wasn’t on the ball a ton and his impact as a contributing playmaker — what the team really needs — was not real tangible.

That’s to be expected. He’s been with the club for only a few weeks, and was never likely to be a game changer. But boy could this team use one.

The tempo isn’t the same. The ball movement isn’t the same. Things aren’t the same without Higuain, and right now there doesn’t appear to be any real answers on the roster.

Anti-decisiveness

As we continue to search for what, exactly, is ailing the Crew SC attack, it has become clear that lack of decisiveness is playing a role.

The Black & Gold garnered 66.8 percent possession and completed 86 percent of their passes ... and did next to nothing with it. Ten total shots, just four on target, seven from outside the box.

Columbus had two and a half times as many passes as TFC (497 to 206). Congrats, you’re the poster boy for the uselessness of possession for possession’s sake.

Look at these dashboards. This is the definition of controlling a game ... and then doing nothing with it.

Columbus Crew FC
Toronto FC

Can it be any clearer that there’s an issue breaking down defenses right now?

This looks like an attack that’s not playing for each other. Everyone is holding the ball for a moment too long. In the 11th minute, Ethan Finlay tried to dribble past two defenders who had help while at a bad angle, rather than taking advantage of that defensive focus and moving the ball. In the 33rd minute Justin Meram skipped past a wide defender and then waited too long when he had a momentary window to find Ola Kamara near the penalty spot.

This is not to pick on those two guys — those are just examples. It’s rampant. There’s too much head-down-and-go. And until Crew SC figures out how to think quicker and be more explosive in attack, it will struggle to consistently get good looks at goal.

Columbus’ only goal came on a set piece (OK, so that’s good news) on a second ball that fell perfectly to Harrison Afful.

The coaching duel

Much has been made of the pieces that Greg Vanney has to work with. Toronto can splash cash and bring in a different sort of player than Columbus can. But in a battle of two former defenders named Greg(g), Vanney was the clear winner.

Gregg Berhalter obviously prepped his team well. It played how it wanted to and imposed its style on the game, especially through the first 60 minutes or so. Columbus smartly got numbers wide, pressed high on occasion to disrupt TFC’s buildup and generally dictated things.

The difference is that Toronto adjusted.

Crew SC pulled off Finlay for Cedrick Mabwati at half, which I think was the right move, and it looked like it would pay dividends early. I thought Mabwati and Kamara showed some nice chemistry early on, even if the ideas didn’t come off, but that was the extent of things.

TFC had a couple of changes necessitated by injury, but it made things work. And in the 59th minute Vanney brought in midfielder Jay Chapman and moved to a 4-3-3 and all of a sudden looked like a genius. Columbus couldn’t adjust and Chapman was, for 20-30 minutes, the best player on the field.

Coming into the game, we expected Toronto to have the best player on the field. We just pegged the wrong guy.

Vanney took his team on the road while missing at least six starters and three DPs, including the best player in the league, and earned a point. That’s masterful.

The breakdown + Baby Jozy

When you’re up by a goal in the second half at home, you have to find ways to win. SPOILER ALERT: Columbus did not.

In one of its few moments of possession, Toronto slowed things down in the back, held the ball and then put it up to Jordan Hamilton, who parried it back to Benoit Cheyrou in the middle of the field. Columbus gave him all the time in the world and he picked out Chapman, who sucked Michael Parkhurst way out and left Hamilton all alone to completely toy with Tyson Wahl. Oh, and score.

The whole point of the double pivot is that both defensive midfielders work together. In this case, they do not. I thought Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp had good games up to this point, but here they’re both caught in between. There’s no pressure on Cheyrou and there’s also too much room behind — and a nice passing lane — for Chapman to check to the ball and turn.

And then there’s whatever happens with Tyson Wahl. Parkhurst steps to the ball and misses, and things fall apart. Parkhurst recovers and chases Chapman but Wahl stays with him until it’s too late. Meanwhile, invisible defender is the only one who thinks tracking a striker through Zone 14 is worthwhile.

Poor decision-making, poor communication.

An added note: this play works because Hamilton acts as a hold-up striker, controlling a long ball out of the back and getting it to Cheyrou.

Later on Hamilton shows up again with some nice support play up top:

Is it just me, or does Hamilton look like a baby Jozy Altidore?

Where to go from here

This was a game where Columbus dropped two points. That much is obvious. But it can still be parlayed into a positive stretch — one that’s almost necessary if this club wants to turn the season around.

This was the first of three straight home games. On Sunday, the Black & Gold host D.C. United. A week later it’s Orlando City at MAPFRE Stadium. Those are both teams that have some issues and should be beatable.

If Columbus wants to be a playoff team, it has to beat bottom-half teams while at home. Here’s the chance.