It’s no longer pretty for Columbus Crew SC.
The Black & Gold went on the road and took a first half lead, playing 13 minutes a man down, but never looked eager to push forward in a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC.
Crew SC had a chance in the 13th minute to take the lead. Left back Waylon Francis cut a pass back to Justin Meram inside the Orlando penalty box, but the midfielder’s shot hit the post and bounced out.
In the 35th minute, Columbus opened the scoring thanks to a header from center back Lalas Abubakar. The service came from a free kick from Francis that was redirected home for the rookie’s first Major League Soccer goal.
The Black & Gold carried that lead into the halftime break and were content to sit on that advantage in the second half.
Orlando piled on the pressure in the second 45 minutes, bringing on veteran MLS striker Dom Dwyer. The recent signing was pesky to the Crew SC backline, causing issues for the final 27 minutes.
It wasn’t Dwyer, but Giles Barnes who finally found the equalizer for OCSC. Cristian Higuita picked up the ball in the attacking third and nutmegged Abubakar in the 67th minute. His threaded pass found Barnes, who fired a shot from a tight angle that hit both posts before creeping over the line.
In the 77th minute, Crew SC right back Harrison Afful was judged to have elbowed Yoshimar Yotun following a video review and issued a straight red card by the referee.
Down to 10 men, the Black & Gold bunkered even more, holding on to the tie and earning a point on the road.
A road point
It’s not been often in 2017 that Crew SC has ended a match in a draw. This game marked just the third time in 26 games Columbus has played 90 minutes to a stalemate... and this appeared very intentional.
Despite having playmaker Federico Higuain back in training for a week and new Designated Player Pedro Santos approved to play, neither attacking players were in the starting 11 and Higuain did not even make the bench.
Instead, Gregg Berhalter elected to go with second-year player Cristian Martinez, looking to spring on the counter using the speed the youngster provides in the absence of winger Kekuta Manneh.
With a lead for much of the match, the Columbus faithful would have preferred to walk out of Orlando with three points, but a third draw of the season on the road is not a bad result.
Is VAR working?
For the second straight week, the newly installed video review system was used in an Orlando City game. Last match, it unnecessarily sent off Kaka late in the game, but this week it was Harrison Afful who dismissed thanks to the VAR.
The Crew SC right back collided with the new OCSC Designated Player with an arm high, but never raised his arm, swung in any direction to hit Yotun in the face and its unclear if an elbow actually made any contact. Both players were down after the collision and the official appeared to be giving a yellow card to Afful.
After going to the review, a red card was given to Afful, despite a similar instance with Dwyer hitting Santos in the face minutes before not being reviewed at all.
MLS’s video review has not been successful in the first few weeks and, given the quick look by referee Juan Guzman, needs a review of its own heading into 2018.
Gregg Berhalter gave new DP signing Pedro Santos his first appearance in black and gold in the 62nd minute.
Given Santos is an offensive and creative player, and Columbus’ inability to create offense in the second half, the new player saw little of the ball and his debut was tough to judge.
Despite that, it was good to see the most expensive players in Crew SC history get on the field. Expect more of him in the the final eight games of the MLS regular season.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Black & Gold who welcome the struggling LA Galaxy to MAPFRE Stadium on Wednesday. The Galaxy, who sit in ninth in the Western Conference, have five of the team’s six wins on the road, so that game will not come easy.