Sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned. That’s what happened to Gregg Berhalter and Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night in a 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy.
Both teams entered the match with players absent. Whether to international duty or injury, Crew SC and the Galaxy dealt with similar issues, yet it was how the teams handled the situation that made the difference.
Berhalter, always true to his system, promises a typical attacking style. He lined up in the usual formation but not with typical personnel and didn’t display the usual system of play
Center-back Nicolai Næss was deployed in the midfield where he didn’t look comfortable in his 45 minutes before switching back to his natural position. Midfielders Dilly Duka and Cedrick Mabwati were both expected to start with the limited options, but with Duka out wide and Mabwati in the middle, the positioning was perplexing.
The first half saw little in the way of actual scoring chances as both sides attempted to figure out a makeshift lineup.
After center-back Gaston Sauro was bloodied in the first half, he was replaced by attacking midfielder Federico Higuain at the break... but Higuain did not play his usual position. Instead, Cedrick remained high in the center and Higauin sat deep, a position that did not allow his usual roaming of the field.
Despite little from Cedrick, Duka or Kamara, Berhalter brought off left back Corey Ashe for Waylon Franics in the 65th minute before finally replacing the ineffective Mabwati with a second forward, Adam Jahn, with 13 minutes to play.
Even that move backfired on the Columbus head coach as the two forwards meant more defensive responsibilities for Higuain and LA took advantage in the 78th minute.
The first goal was not much of a fault to anyone. A ball laid off to Baggio Husidic at the corner of the Black & Gold penalty area and an unexpected shot beat goalkeeper Steve Clark for the 1-0 advantage.
The second goal was a matter of personnel as Duka played a short pass back to midfielder Mohammed Saeid at midfield that immediately put him in trouble. Pressure came and he tried to clear but the attempt redirected off the Galaxy player right to attacker Giovani Dos Santos. The Mexican forward raced into the Crew SC penalty box and chipped Clark for a 2-0 advantage.
After not creating much all night, Columbus attempted to push some numbers forward and it did result in a consolation goal in stoppage time.
Ola Kamara attempted to latch on to a ball in the box and the official ruled he was taken down. His poor penalty kick effort was saved by goalkeeper Brian Rowe but Jahn followed up to tuck it away.
Following a 2-1-1 stretch leading into this contest that was beginning to build some confidence for the Black & Gold, a loss like this could kill momentum. With a home game next weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps and the return of multiple regulars, Crew SC will hope this self-made debacle will be just a blip on the radar in an attempt to climb back into the MLS Cup Playoff standings.