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Six-Thought Box: Columbus Crew SC cough up home points

Columbus starts (and finishes) weak at MAPFRE.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Patrick Guldan, substituting for Kris in this week’s 6TB, attended the game with his disappointed daughter. Fathers don’t like their daughters to be disappointed.

In a return home on Saturday night, Columbus Crew SC did two things the team hadn’t done all year. The Black & Gold lost at home and failed to respond from a loss the previous week with a win.

What made it more disappointing, the opponent, New York City FC, came into MAPFRE Stadium and walked out with three points, in a 3-2 road win, without two of its stars in David Villa and Andrea Pirlo.

It’s a loss that’s pretty tough to stomach. Here are six thoughts on this home debacle.

Another slow start

Crew SC had a problem in 2016 giving up late goals. They’ve fixed that this season as there has been a dearth of late heartbreak. The Black & Gold have swapped this out for early disappointment. This season Crew SC has given up a second minute goal in Houston, a fourth minute goal to the Portland Timbers, an 11th minute goal to the New York Red Bulls, and finally an eighth minute goal to NYCFC.

That means opponents have led four times in the team’s nine games within the first 15 minutes. This doesn’t even count the early goals scored by Toronto FC (21st) or the Chicago Fire (22nd). Sure, a strong defense to close out games is nice, but you have to have a lead for it to matter.

Abu is no Artur

Mohammed Abu was one of the big early additions to the team this offseason. The Ghanian arrived at the start of preseason and was expected to be an upgrade to the soft middle that had plagued Columbus in 2016 as Mohammed Saied and Tony Tchani’s form dipped.

Well, Abu started the opening game, but soon lost his spot to Artur.

Abu vs. Artur

That comparison shows the reason why. Abu is a nice passer, but the system Crew SC plays needs range out of its midfielders and Abu hasn’t shown it yet. He may have not lost a tackle, but that’s because he didn’t get to them. That’s a problem for Columbus going forward without the Brazilian.

I worry about Jonathan

Berhalter and Crew SC knew they had a problem on defense. Michael Parkhurst departed and the headline addition this offseason was the arrival of Designated Player Jonathan Mensah. Troublingly, the Crew SC defense hasn’t been rock solid when he’s played.

Goals allowed is a blunt measure and we are talking about small sample sizes so far, but the team averages 2.5 goals against in four games when Jonathan starts and .8 in five games when Alex Crognale starts. Again, small sample sizes, but with in the Crognale defense, Crew SC has limited strikers like Jozy Altidore and Cyle Larin to a single goal combined.

Perhaps Jonathan will settle in as he gets more game fit and has the benefit of playing with Artur.

Afful struggles (Raitala too)

Crew SC wingbacks are asked to do an awful lot in the 4-2-3-1, especially how Columbus plays it. It takes a high energy player with one-on-one defensive skill and the ability to attack. The width comes from the attacking fullbacks. Crew SC struggled last night as both Harrison Afful and Jukka Raitala were targeted.

Afful has always been more of an offensive threat for the Black & Gold. He has three goals and five assists over his 47 games for the team. He’s still creating (1.48 expected assists), but his defensive efforts and decision making have been weak. His 76th minute centering pass gifted NYCFC the go ahead goal and all three points.

Raitala joined this offseason and he’s been a solid addition at left back. He demonstrated he can combine well with Justin Meram. There is a growing level of comfort and familiarity. However, NYCFC knew exactly how to stretch Crew SC, targeting the wings with quick side to side movement. Raitala tired and the gaps opened.

Berhalter stands pat

It was clear that Columbus struggled as the second half unfolded. It didn’t go unnoticed by Crew SC’s head coach.

After taking a 2-1 lead off an Ola Kamara goal wholly caused by a smart and relentless press by Ethan Finlay in the 49th, Crew SC struggled. NYCFC pushed forward and moved the ball effectively. They switched fields and made the home side run, and run, and run. It was a tired group that gave up the tying goal in the 64th minute. It was the same group, reduced to 10 men for five minutes while Raitala was patched up, that gave up the winning goal in the 76th minute.

Crew SC made the team’s first substitutions (a double swap) in the 81st minute. Kekuta Manneh and Niko Hansen replaced Meram and Finlay. Over the course of 28 minutes, Columbus went from 2-1 up to 3-2 down without making a change for either fresh legs or to change the shape.

That 2016 feeling

The Black & Gold have done a lot of work to exorcise the demons of the second worst season in team history. The defense has shown improvement and there is, for lack of a better word, a grit that was missing last year. The game against NYCFC brought all of those bad memories back.

The offense struggled to stay in sync despite the two goals. The team couldn’t win the ball back for most of the early second half and the glaring defensive errors gifted golden opportunities. No Crew SC fan wants those flashbacks.

There remains a fragility to this team and, by design, many MLS teams. This team is better than 2016, but Berhalter will have to figure out hohw to guard against that fragility before a two-game losing streak becomes a five-game winless streak.

Agree? Disagree? Have a few thoughts of you own? Share below or on Twitter and Facebook.