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Massive Notebook: Houston, we have a problem

Midweek thoughts on Columbus’ loss to the Dynamo and what’s ahead.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s early. Too early to panic, right? While we all sit and ponder what Saturday’s 2016-like performance in a 3-1 road loss to the Houston Dynamo really means, here are a few midweek thoughts.

Word of the Day ...

... Aimless

First there was Zack Steffen’s mistake in the back. (It’s not the first time pressure has caused problems for Crew SC building out of the back)

Then there was the finishing. (Not the first time finishing chances — Columbus had 14 shots, five on target; both more than Houston — has been a concern)

Then there was a sudden dearth of attacking opportunities in the second half, with just five shots and just two of those on target. (Not the first time we’ve seen the attack seem lifeless, or the team have a subpar second half)

Then there were the two things the team never seems to lack — possession (60 percent) and crosses (27). (Not the first time we’ve seen the attack seem to lack answers or ingenuity)

Then there was a mishap on set-piece defense. (Not the first time we’ve seen that)

All of it aimless, and all of it eerily reminiscent of 2016.

Most Black & Gold fans are too familiar with this look after last season, and the goals are mostly self explanatory, but it is worth taking one more look at the final Houston goal — Erick Torres’ strike on the break.

Rookie right back Connor Maloney ends up looking like the one scrambling, and he should have been more aware of Cubo’s run, instead apparently distracted by Mauro Manotas’ movement. But it was also a generally lackadaisical shift into defense by the entire team, which seems to assume that the Dynamo will take their time pushing forward. Jonathan Mensah initially puts a little pressure on Alex in the midfield, but when he peels off to get back, Alex gets the ball back and just floats with his head up, with all the time in the world to spot Cubo Torres down field and put him into space.

It was the nail in a coffin that was already shut.


Player Ratings

How did the Black & Gold perform vs. Houston?
(Ratings on a 1-10 scale, with 6 being average)

THE GOOD

Artur (6.5) — This was the Brazilian’s first extended runout, and he brought energy to the midfield, had the ball at his feet a lot and covered a lot of ground, though the Dynamo often gave him loads of room to run. It was a positive first performance before being subbed out in the 57th minute. He may have been, though, at least partially culpable on the Dynamo’s corner-kick goal.

Ola Kamara (6.5) — While it wasn’t an overly dangerous effort, Kamara was involved in the attack when it generated some pressure in the first half, including an opportunity that was called offside. He also found the back of goal in extra time.

THE MEH

Justin Meram (5.5) — Meram was, as usual, lively on the ball, though imperfect in the final third. He was involved in a miscommunication on Houston’s corner-kick goal and was the closest man to Alex when he had all day to find Erick Torres down field for goal No. 3, but also contributed an assist on Crew SC’s lone goal.

Harrison Afful (6) — What appeared to be a solid or better first half led to an odd decision to sub off the right back at halftime.

Jonathan Mensah (5.5) — I thought the center back had a decent day and certainly wasn’t culpable on Houston’s first two goals, but picking up a red card, even if you believe it was borderline, didn’t help the cause.

Nicolai Naess (6) — A fine, if mostly quiet, performance. After 2016, any time we’re not talking about the center backs is good.

Jukka Raitala (5) — The left back didn’t get involved in the attack much, though that may have been a tactical decision. He had some up and down moments defensively (he did let Alberth Elis get behind him for a good chance in the 55th minute) and saw his touch occasionally let him down.

Wil Trapp (5.5) — Was mostly anonymous, even by his own quiet standards. Houston’s counter mostly bypassed him defensively, and to the attack he injected little.

Federico Higuain (5.5) — He deserves some responsibility for a lifeless second-half attack, but he also played some quality balls, including one that was called back when Kamara was offside, and had a good chance on goal that was saved by Tyler Deric.

Ethan Finlay (5.5) — Had a moment or two, but mostly seemed disconnected and with little influence on a game in which Columbus could have used a spark going forward.

Connor Maloney (5.5) — Subbed on at halftime, he could have done better on Torres’ goal, both in closing out and in the recognition of the striker’s run in, but also had to recover from pushing up in the attack; it’s a tough situation to put a player in in his first professional appearance. In the attack, he showed a little shake before connecting with Kamara to create a scoring opportunity in the second half.

Mohammed Abu (6) — Coming in after 57 minutes, Abu was steady but little else in a substitute appearance. He broke up one Houston counter, but otherwise didn’t have much opportunity to show his value.

THE UGLY

Adam Jahn (4.5) — In a 25-minute cameo, the striker was a non-factor, which is the opposite of what Columbus needed. He did not attempt a shot and had eight touches.

Zack Steffen (4) — Perhaps a bit harsh, Steffen did have one bright moment when he charged out to stop a Houston chance on the break. It’s hard, however, to look past the early mistake that cost CCSC a goal and put it behind the eight-ball from the beginning, altering the entire state of the game.


Look Ahead

Columbus at D.C. United — Saturday, 7 p.m. EST

So, the good news is Crew SC now gets to take on a team in its own club — searching for its first win of 2017.

Also good for the Black & Gold is that United looked like a defensive mess for much of its game against New York City FC on Saturday. It was, in fact, as stretched as I’ve seen the D.C. defense in some time. NYCFC had a lot of success getting the ball wide in attack, which is good news for a Columbus side that likes to do the same.

That said, CCSC doesn’t have David Villa, and it’s hard to know what to take away from a performance on that matchstick field without a wider (no pun intended, but I’ll take it) context in which to place it (we are just two games in, you know).

New York City also had success turning United over in the midfield and springing the attack from that. Of course, Columbus isn’t known for turning teams over with its defensive pressure, and D.C. won’t be as stretched if it has time to sit back and pack it in.

Look for a more in-depth Massive Scouting Report later this week.


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