Squad rotation hit the Six-Thought Box. Patrick Guldan is subbing in for Kris Landis and was on scene for Columbus Crew SC’s disappointing loss.
Grinding it out
The visitors played in Toronto a week ago, flew to Seattle for a Saturday afternoon match, the back to Columbus for Wednesday's match (and Sebastian Giovinco didn't play the last two) They got nine points be being able to grind out a result. In Columbus the Reds played a five man defense with four in midfield to play for a tie and try to steal the game early. Federico Higuain’s penalty scrapped that plan and they pushed forward with a new plan. Crew SC wasn't able to "out grind" a team that traveled nearly coast to coast in the past week. Columbus missed the cutting edge as the game progressed and they failed to get that vital second goal. That turned out to be crucial as Toronto scored twice in the last 10 minutes to take all the points.
The Six-Thought Box normally takes a single game isolated view. It’s the “what happened these 90 minutes”. Looking at it that way, there is no shame in losing to possibly the best team in MLS at home. Crew SC controlled large stretches of the game. However... it’s impossible to take this result without looking at the bigger picture. Toronto was playing without Sebastian Giovinco. This capped a three point, three game home stand. Including two games where Columbus gave up a 2016 reminiscent late lead to drop two games from winning positions. And the kicker, three of the next four games games to close out May are on the road. Columbus is 1-4-0 on the road this year.
Over the 180 minutes Crew SC played in the last half week, the coaching staff stuck with their core attackers. Federico Higuain played 170 minutes. Ethan Finlay played 163. Justin Meram played 173. Ola Kamari played 164. The subs were gently used as Adam Jahn played 16 minutes. Niko Hansen played 24, and Kekuta Manneh played 0. Perhaps the coaching staff thought their best chances at a result were to play a near full strength lineup against a tired Toronto team, but the move backfired. Now the regulars are tired as a trip to Montreal looms. The team could use three points and it will have to be with either tired starters or a bench that Berhalter apparently doesn't fully trust.
Alex Crognale has been a standout on the backline when called upon to step in. He struggled on Wednesday. Jozy Altidore is a handful for the most experienced defenders and there was plenty to fault on the Crew SC's late collapse, but Crognale didn't rise to the challenge. His poor attempt at a clearance lead to Toronto's penalty call. Additionally, he had a chance to intervene on both Toronto goals to preserve some points. He totaled a mere two clearances, three recoveries and a lone block. The homegrown standout is bound to rebound, but Wednesday showed he still can improve.
The left back battle
Waylon Francis was an All-Star in 2015, but lost his form and picked up an injury that shortened his 2016. He looked destined for the bench in 2017 with the addition of Finnish international Jukka Raitala. Francis started a single game in Crew SC's first nine and that's only because Raitala was on international duty. However Francis was patient and the congested schedule (and a dip in Raitala's form) opened the door to Francis. The Costa Rican defender seized it with a couple vintage performances on offense and defense that forced Berhalter to admit on Thursday that Raitala and Francis are competing for the starting job.
The wrong right (back)
On the other side of defense, Harrison Afful was omitted from the game day roster for the second straight game after the birth of his son. Instead of using Hector Jimenez or Raitala on the right, Berhalter and Josh Wolff opted to use Josh Williams on the right. This may be a remnant of a possible 3-5-2 that they were going to roll out judging by the team’s lineup tweet. Williams may have played on the right earlier in his career, but he was a poor fit in this game. Toronto could attack at pace against him and he struggled when isolated on the wing. He was eventually lifted for Jimenez in the 66th minute with the first Crew SC sub.