Three games that were supposed to be the turning point of the season. Three winnable contests at home. ... Three draws.
Things weren’t all bad from Columbus, which makes the end result all the more glaring — time is running out to hope that the occasional positive performance will become something more.
Here are a handful of thoughts as we question whether the Black & Gold just let the door close on this season.
Fives and threes
A fifth consecutive draw at home. A third straight tie overall. During a stretch in which it appeared Crew SC had every opportunity to jumpstart the season, it came up with three points — about half as many as what they needed out of it.
Even on a night when the performance wasn’t bad, frustration is the emotion of the day. And a looming sense that the season may be at the point where we can say it slipped away, in the past tense.
A momentary breath of fresh air
Tony Tchani’s 20th-minute goal showcased so much of what has been missing in Columbus’ attack.
Crew SC has attacked goal mostly in a couple of ways — getting wide and taking advantage of Ola Kamara’s outstanding movement. The first hasn’t been as successful this season; the latter has paid dividends, but can’t be counted on for 2-3 goals every game.
On this goal, Tchani and Justin Meram play a quick 1-2 in Zone 14, the defensive midfielder holds off a challenge from Servando Carrasco and remains calm in the box to finish. Zone 14 work has typically been lacking (especially with Federico Higuain out) and poise in the box has often been MIA.
Finding another way to create danger means both finding other goal scorers as well as finding other ways, tactically, to open up defenses. Crew SC did both at once.
More Zone 14
Orlando had some issues in Zone 14, and Columbus took advantage. The Black & Gold’s second goal showcased more things they should probably do more often — scoring on a counter and recognizing vulnerabilities (this is a no-brainer, but something that’s been lacking, with too much head-down, one-dimensional attack).
Trapp wins a ball in the midfield and immediately sparks things forward with his 50/50-winning header. Meram immediately recognizes there’s a huge gap between the Orlando City defensive midfielders and the back line, and he quickly slips the ball in to let Mohammed Saeid attack it.
This is a play when nobody holds the ball longer than they need to, and that’s why it works, allowing each player to perfectly release the next until Kamara’s dragged down for a PK.
Heads up, play quickly and explosively. When it’s done right, it looks so obvious and simple.
Half chances haunt
As far as chance creation goes, it’s hard to fault Columbus in this one. It generated 22 shots, nine of which went on goal. That should be enough to win games.
With more points going by the wayside, it’s hard not to think of the half chances and missed opportunities. Kamara got himself in great spots for headers a couple of times in the first half, only to miss the frame. Ethan Finlay got into the box a couple times and couldn’t put it away (including whiffing from inside the 6-yard box in the 81st minute. Great build-up led to a good opportunity for Kamara in the 84th minute, only to have it saved by Joe Bendik. And a minute later Federico Higuain smacked one just outside the right post. Pipa’s blast in the 91st minute that was saved.
Getting just one would have made the difference.
He’s finally back. Higuain entered the game in the 71st minute, making his first appearance since June 1st. His presence was so noticeable. Pipa provided a presence to control the ball in the middle third of the field. He provided support in the box. He provided another player to actually get the ball off his boot and on target. He provided an attacker willing to try things.
Go back to the 91st minute and watch the shot he rips on Bendik. The build on that play began when Higuain slipped a long pass from the left side to Finlay on the right and put it right on his foot. That’s what starts the dominoes falling that stretches the defense.
Higuain will make two or three of those passes every game. Nobody else will.
You don’t stay in the basement of the Eastern Conference based on bad luck alone. The self-inflicted wounds have been varied and many in 2016 for the Black & Gold. On night’s like Saturday it’s easy to feel hard on your luck.
Crew SC put together a pretty good attacking performance. It scored two goals, which should win you a lot of games if you do it consistently. And the goals they gave up weren’t based on total collapses.
On the first Columbus got burned on a left-side overload (which is exactly what Orlando likes to do), which ultimately led to a chance and a corner. And on the corner Crew SC came off the near post and let Orlando get goal-side in the scrum. But that’s why corners are dangerous — a mess of bodies just yards in front of the goal line can end at the whim of a bounce here or there.
On the second goal, Cory Ashe should have cut out the long ball down the right. He didn’t. But he also recovered well on Kevin Molino. Molino made a good move to get loose and sent good service into the box. And Cyle Larin is a beast who shrugged off two defenders who marked him pretty tightly.
Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to an opponent and say, ‘Well done.’
The problem is that at some point the team that was MLS Cup runner-up a year ago simply needs to be better than its opponent for every minute of a 90-minute match. It hasn’t happened often in 2016.