Poor finishing costs teams
This was a game Crew SC probably should have won. The Black & Gold had a ridiculous number of missed chances and half-chances, probably approaching double digits. By the time New England equalized in the 24th minute Crew SC legitimately could have scored three or four goals.
Across the board Crew SC’s finishing was not good enough, and in a game that they dominated statistically but still lost, missed chances were the deciding factor. There’s no one person to single out, as just about every one of Columbus’ attacking players were guilty at least once. Even center-back Jonathan Mensah had a couple of chances on late corners that he could have done better with. If this team is to make the jump from “inconsistent but promising” to “legitimate contenders,” they will have to be far more clinical in matches.
Not making the grade
We are right around the one-third mark of the season, which I think is a fair amount of time to assess the performance of the team as a whole, as well as its players. There are a few that have been lacking, and Sunday’s match illustrated that.
Mohammed Abu has been the subject of much scorn thus far this year, and it seems like those of us who were waiting for him to show the talent we all thought (or hoped) he had will be waiting a while. He continues to look uncomfortable on the ball, and while his passing accuracy has improved, his attempts seem to not lead anywhere. Abu’s positional awareness has been the glaring flaw lately, with his inability (or unwillingness) to cover space or runners putting his team in real trouble.
Jonathan Mensah has been in a similar situation. A Designated Player contract brings high expectations and, despite the fact that his coaches feel he is improving, he continues to struggle. Jonathan has moments of physical dominance, which you would expect, but he’s also prone to making mistakes that you can’t justify from a regular starter, let alone a DP-level defender.
Adam Jahn is where good build up play goes to die. Besides a large body to serve as a battering-ram, he offers next to nothing to the Crew SC attack. For all the talk of the quality of depth this team has, I am not entirely convinced by some of these pieces.
Missing key pieces
Midfielder Artur was a late scratch Sunday with what Gregg Berhalter is describing as a groin strain and Ethan Finlay missed his second-straight game with a leg contusion.
Both of these losses really impacted Crew SC in this one. Artur provides Columbus with a two-way player that is dynamic both on and off the ball, while also being a solid marker and defender. I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that the Revolution’s second goal might not have ended up a goal with the Brazilian on the pitch. Abu failed to cover the space left by Wil Trapp, which gave Diego Fagundez a lot of room. Artur has shown time and time again the ability to do just this.
While wing-play wasn’t the biggest cause for concern for Crew SC on the day, I’ve commented before that the team remains better with Finlay on the pitch. Harrison Afful was also missed, especially in light of Hector Jimenez’s unusually bad day. While the loss can’t reasonably be blamed on missing these players, it’s definitely something to keep in mind. If these second options can’t step up in matches where they’re needed, the Black & Gold won’t go very far.
J9’s quiet night
Justin Meram has been in the form of his life this year. Coming off a hat trick against the Montreal Impact, it’s only natural that Crew SC fans would expect him to continue that form against a New England team that has struggled at the back at times this season. This proved to not be the case.
Through some combination of game flow and the Revolution game planning him out of the picture, Meram never really got going in this one. For much of the first half, the game was played down Crew SC’s right hand side, leaving Meram as a fringe player. As the game went on, he got a little more involved, but was never a real threat at goal. His biggest contribution came when he hit the crossbar with a header around the hour mark.
Meram has been on fire this year, and was bound to have a quiet night sooner or later. This doesn’t concern me. But on the nights where he’s not firing on all cylinders someone else will have to step up, and we just didn’t see that on Sunday.
Breaking down the block
For much of the second half, New England was content to sit deep in a low block and frustrate Crew SC, and it worked. Columbus managed to amp up the pressure late on, but for most of the half the team lacked any real spark of creativity. The Black & Gold’s tactic of working the ball wide and crossing it in, which did have some success early was negated by the sheer number of bodies in the box. This is a problem Berhalter’s side have run up against before, and usually with similar results.
While Berhalter has changed up his tactics at times this year, this seemed to be an occasion of reverting back to the default, and once again his side couldn’t come up with an inventive way to break down the opposition. This is something that will need to change if Berhalter’s side hope to make the jump from contenders to legitimate challengers. Plan A won’t always work. We’ve seen Berhalter go to a few different plan B’s, but on this night, they just couldn’t find one.
Just who is this team?
At this point in the year, I usually have a feel for just who exactly the team is. But this year, I’m still unsure.
Crew SC has shown flashes of being really, really good. There have been moments of incredible frailty. Perhaps more than anything else, inconsistency has been the story that’s followed this team so far this season. Moments of offensive magic, such as Trapp’s pass to Ola Kamara on Sunday that set up the goal, are overshadowed by defensive breakdowns.
But other times the defense shows they can hold a potent Orlando City attack scoreless. It’s maddening. Is this a scrappy mid-table team that occasionally knocks off bigger sides? Is it a contender for the East with a real Achilles’ heel? Or simply a pretender who has just gotten lucky at times? It’s impossible to tell.
As the MLS season enters the summer months, it’s vital that Berhalter instills that sense of identity in to his side. Because until the players feel it, we as fans won’t see it. And teams without an identity get swept aside, sooner or later. Considering the fact that the Eastern Conference looks better than it has in years thus far, it’s likely to be sooner. If this team doesn’t figure out who it is and what it’s about, it’s going to be left behind the pack.