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Six-Thought Box: A shootout out west

Six thoughts on the Black & Gold’s wild night out west.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

After a horrid night in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Columbus Crew SC headed west to take on Real Salt Lake Saturday night. With injuries and red card suspensions, it was a much changed line-up, and the match ended up being a free flowing shoot out. Here are six thoughts from Crew SC’s gutsy 2-2 draw.

A decent result

Taken in a vacuum, Saturday’s result was a decent one. Considering Crew SC was finishing up another three-games-in-eight-days run, on the road and missing several starters due to injury and suspension, a point served the team just fine.

Considering Crew SC’s current position in the standings, however, Gregg Berhalter and company will likely feel content at best. Before the Gold Cup break many commentators opined that the Black & Gold would need at least seven points in the three-game swing for it to be a success. Only taking four points out of nine against teams widely considered beatable is hard to spin as anything other than disappointing in the grand scheme of things.

So while on any other night the gutsy, come-from-behind tie would be lauded as a great point pickup, it’s marred by poor result on Wednesday, leaving me feeling more unimpressed than I probably should.

Could have been a win… or loss.

This was such a weird game in that both sides can reasonably feel like they should have come out with all three points. Both teams had several chances that probably should have resulted in goals.

After taking the lead Salt Lake had a 10 minute spell where it was one-way traffic, and it looked like we were about to see another meltdown.

RSL didn’t find the third goal, despite taking a total of 20 shots. The Black & Gold also had chances to find a winner. Ola Kamara fluffed a chance for his hat trick in the 72nd minute and Kekuta Manneh also had a opportunity for a winner, striking the crossbar. Considering all the chances created by both sides, a draw is probably a fair result, but it will be one that will frustrate both teams.

Makeshift

With Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar suspended and Harrison Afful injured, Berhalter had limited options in defense for this one. As expected, Nicolai Naess and Josh Williams partnered with Alex Crognale in a three-man backline, and Waylon Francis and Connor Maloney entered the fray as wing backs.

While this cobbled together defensive unit didn’t dazzle, their showing wasn’t a disaster either. Real found a lot of space to exploit, and exploited it, but the Crew SC defense did its fair share of last-ditch defending and ended up conceding just one goal from open play.

Maloney had an impressive performance in his first MLS start, getting the assist on Kamara’s opening goal, and for the most part was solid in defense, finishing the match with a WhoScored rating of 7.25, the best of the defenders.

While it wasn’t a perfect performance from the Crew defense, it could have been much, much worse.

Struggles continue

Ethan Finlay is not having a great year. His performances have been subpar for the majority of the season, and that has been reflected in his stat line. Finlay was a key cog in Columbus’ success in 2015 with 12 goals and 13 assists, but he has just one goal in 19 games this season.

Saturday that trend continued, as his final product was severely lacking, be it shooting or passing. He hit the crossbar on a chance that most outfield players in MLS would have scored, but was let off the hook by Kamara slamming home the rebound.

Finlay is a player that publicly exudes confidence, but it’s hard to believe the drought isn’t impacting his play at this point. With Manneh seeming to improve his comfort level in the Crew offense with each appearance and Niko Hansen having returned from injury, Finlay’s chances to right the ship might be coming to an end. More than any other player in Columbus, Finlay needs a goal, and soon.

Work rate matters

Artur is a player I wasn’t buying at the beginning of the season. I thought the hype levels were way too high, and wasn’t impressed with his initial showings. Happily, I was about as dead wrong as possible.

As the year progressed. his play has been increasingly spectacular and Saturday at Rio Tinto was another great example of that. His work rate on both sides of the ball is fantastic and his offensive output has been steadily rising throughout the year.

With Federico Higuain missing due to injury, more attacking impetus fell on Artur’s shoulders, and, while he isn’t the same style or caliber of playmaker as Pipa, Saturday’s match showed real improvement in that capacity. True two-way impact players are a rarity in any league, let alone MLS, but the young Brazilian is definitely trending in that direction.

Doing Just Enough

After Saturday’s results Crew SC remain in the last playoff position in the Eastern Conference, holding a two-point lead over Orlando City. Orlando, however, have a game in hand.

Crew SC’s next three games are against the San Jose Earthquakes, Chicago Fire, and OCSC. While Chicago has been red hot this year, San Jose are in a similar position to the Crew out west, so the matches with the Quakes and Orlando will be vital to the playoff hopes of the Black & Gold.

Columbus has been massively inconsistent this year, but there’s still enough time left to right the ship for a playoff run. That being said, there is precious little room for error left. If Berhalter’s side is going to make its way to the postseason, the push has to start now.