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6-Thought Box: Desert oasis or mirage for Crew SC in wild draw with NYCFC?

It felt really good for a while, yet Columbus still let a late lead slip away in a crazy draw with New York City. We offer thoughts after a wild contest.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

This was a crazy game. Penalty kicks, goals — late goals — and a game-ending red card to New York City FC coach Patrick Vieira.

It went from Columbus Crew SC victory to another disappointing draw, to total collapse and then a thrilling 3-3 draw. How quickly (and often) things shift.

Is grabbing a tie from the jaws of defeat good? Were the positives that occurred enough to feel good about? Is another lost lead the beginning of the end for the Black & Gold?

Here are some thoughts.

Good ball movement

Too much of the Columbus attack this season has been methodical. Possession numbers have been mostly useless, as the team hasn’t truly broken down opponents effectively as it plodded along and relied on flashes from Ola Kamara to get goals.

On Saturday Crew SC looked like it had a new level of focus after a week off, and I thought the ball movement was much better for one major reason — speed of play.

My first note came in the 11th minute, when strong build-up play came out of a quick succession of passes, switched the ball to the right and resulted in an opportunity on goal.

This happened for a good chunk of the night, and that’s a good thing. The three goals on the board weren’t just a coincidence.

Naess’ debut

Nicolai Naess made his Columbus debut, and it was bright. His clearance attempt just before New York’s second goal was problematic, but was far from the only issue on that goal.

Generally speaking, his awareness — something that, at times, is lacking from the Black & Gold back line — was strong and his mobility was good. He made a great tackle in the 18-yard box in the 13th minute that erased a midfield turnover (more on those later) and a great chance for NYCFC.

There is much still to be seen, but the start was positive.

This isn’t bad for a solid first start:

Nicolai Naess debut
FourFourTwo.com

The droughts are over

Justin Meram scored for the first time in four months. Ethan Finlay scored for the first time in four months. Even before the goals, Finlay was as productive in the attack as he has been since the first few weeks of the season, and maybe since last year.

There is zero doubt that their lack of attacking production has something to do with the team’s step back this year. It was clear when Finlay scored — in an irregular move, taking on penalty-kick duties (clearly designed to offer a much-needed confidence boost) — his teammates recognized what a big moment that could be.

Finlay drew that PK thanks to some 1-v-1 attack off a very good moment from Meram on the ball. And Meram’s goal came in part because of a strong run by Finlay to cross the defense’s wires and help open space for the goal scorer.

When Finlay came through late in extra time to at least salvage a point, you could almost feel the confidence running through his veins. It was a mess in front of goal, but it feels like, for most of this season, Finlay wouldn’t have been in that spot or would have volleyed the ball off a defender.

If there’s something good to take away from this game, it’s the end of those droughts. Unfortunately, a more important victory drought is still going strong.

Midfield turnovers

At least three NYCFC opportunities came off midfield turnovers by Columbus. Two of them saw the ball end up in the back of the net.

NYC’s first goal was set up by a turnover when Steve Clark’s thrown-pass distribution ultimately ended up with the Blues in possession in their attacking third. Then came the foul, Andrea Pirlo’s free kick and Lampard’s ensuing follow-up.

The second came after the hosts couldn’t work out of some midfield pressure, allowing New York to sustain possession on the front foot.

The game winner came off a midfield turnover, when Tony Tchani easily coughed the ball up under pressure from Pirlo, and then fouled him. On a quick restart NYC was able to get the ball into the box, get a handball and score the penalty kick.

You can’t win if you can’t control the midfield in critical moments.

The letdown

We should have seen it coming, because it always has, but after a strong performance, two late goals cost the team.

First, this:

This happens because Columbus couldn’t figure out how to work out of some pressure, and NYC came up with the ball in a great spot on the field. By the time it was done, Meram failed to put pressure on Pirlo — the guy’s not going to run by you, so why are you giving that kind of playmaker time to pick up his head in the attacking third? — and Afful kept David Villa onside.

The third goal came as Crew SC seemed visibly frustrated with letting another lead get away. It was the second strike that was the game changer.

Turning point slipped away?

Another late goal(s). Another two points let slip away. There were so many good things that happened in this game, and the end result was no better.

I understand those who keep the faith in a wide-open MLS, but if the Black & Gold are going to act like the door is cracked, the team couldn’t afford to waste a second. The way it came out in the this game after a bye week indicated that was understood.

And yet here we are, discussing the same scenario we have time and time again. This might have been it. Another week, another two points let slip away, and with them, perhaps, even the most optimistic of hope.