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Six Though Box: A second half statement

Columbus shakes off bad start to lock in a much-needed home win.

Columbus Crew SC played at home against a tough Chicago Fire team and really needed three points before an upcoming trip to Orlando City SC, a fellow playoff challenger. Mission accomplished.

Here are six thoughts on how the match playedd out.

Going down

Crew SC started pretty positively. The visitors were out of sorts, highlighted by a near catastrophic back pass that midfielder Artur headed just wide of goal, so it was a deflating when Chicago scored, seemingly with ease.

The Fire settled into the Crew SC half of the field and the Columbus defensive pressure dropped off. Without Ola Kamara to harry him, Dax McCarty had time to pick out an excellent pass that Michael de Leeuw was free to head on. De Leeuw was wide open as the Columbus backline failed to track his run after checking back. It was another low light for Jonathan Mensah, who looked rooted to the spot as two players streaked past him and the ball went over his head.

Picking back up

The defense did struggle early as highlighted by Jonathan’s gaffe, but Josh Williams and Lalas Abubakar also struggled with their touches while marks often got too much space, but the trio grew into the game.

Jonathan was exceptionally solid as the game progressed and by the end, he was a stalwart. Abubakar settled and rarely let an attacker get on the wrong side throughout the second half.

What could have been a devastating start was ultimately a profile in resiliency.

Two phases of the Fire press

Crew SC has an achilles heel that the team’s possession offense can struggle and turnover the ball in bad spots and give up easy chances. The Fire applied pressure in two phases, closing down the goalkeeper distribution of Zack Steffen. He’d still play short to Josh Williams who would be closed down and forced to play long or pass to Steffen, who’d play long.

If Crew SC tried to play through the press or counter, the midfield pressure was applied by McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger in transition and Crew SC passes went errant, leaving Chicago back on the front foot.

Ola’s island life

Kamara struggled to get in the game last night and little of it was his fault. Chicago’s press really changed how the Black & Gold played. Steffen and the backline played far more directly and Kamara struggled as the miscast target forward.

Kamara had a mere 33 touches on the evening through the 90 minutes plus stoppage. Adam Jahn was subbed on in the 89th minute and had seven in that brief time. Kamara has many strengths, but the game against the Fire highlights how he can be neutralized if Columbus can’t play the group’s normal style.

The reinforcements

Crew SC had three subs, but really two were designed to change the game. Harrison Afful was lifted at halftime for Hector Jimenez as a planned substitution. Afful could play at full speed knowing he was already limited. Jimenez had a couple tackles and an interception in his second half appearance.

Second-year midfielder Cristian Martinez was eight of nine on his passes, including one setting up a shot and his pass to Wil Trapp in the 73rd minute that started the sequence finished by Meram. Beyond that, he was indefatigable in his defensive pressure and his movement off the ball was better than in recent weeks.

As alluded to above, Jahn played a vital role when the team needed a target forward as an outlet as he was able to contest the headers that Kamara struggled with.

Nerves (of Steel)

Columbus has struggled to close out games this season, a missed assignment here or a bad turnover there and Crew SC has given up a lead. The team showed very little of those nerves last night, seeing out the game.

Even after Kamara put his chip over and Meram pulled a shot just wide and seemingly left the door open for the visitors, the group never relented from the pressure at midfield that only gave the Fire two solid late chances. De Leeuw had two shots from tight angles, a weak header and a shot that went well over. Otherwise, Crew SC was never tested after grabbing the lead.

Have other thoughts or care to chime in on the ones above? Let us know below.