On a hot night in Florida, Columbus Crew SC hoped to put some distance between itself and Orlando City SC in the standings. After a match that will not go down in anyone’s history books as an example of good soccer, the spoils were split in a 1-1 draw.
Seeing red (upon review)
In the 74th minute Harrison Afful saw red for a bad foul, essentially elbowing an OCSC player in the face. The call was originally whistled for a foul, then sent to review, which resulted in the red. I was fairly impressed with how quickly and efficiently the process was handled, and, in the end they made the right call. It was a stupid challenge and deserved red. For many the idea of Video Assistant Review is cause for concern about the flow and integrity of the game, but in this instance it went off as close to perfectly as possible.
Afful’s awful challenge put his teammates in a bad spot, having to defend against a potent Lion’s attack for the last 15 minutes of the game. There are no good situations in which to get sent off, but this one was particularly bad, considering the standings.
Pedro Santos, Crew SC’s new Designated Player, made his Black & Gold debut in the 62nd minute, replacing Cristian Martinez. It was not to be a particularly memorable debut for the Portuguese winger, however, as game circumstances rendered him all but invisible for his 27 minutes on the pitch. This was mainly due to game flow, with Crew SC primarily defending, even before the red card.
While Crew fans (and I’m sure the staff and Santos himself) were understandably disappointed in the less than memorable debut, there isn’t any reason for panic. This was about as bad of a situation for a would-be star player to make his debut in. I imagine that Crew fans will have a much better idea of what the new DP can do by the end of the upcoming homestand.
Artur was a late scratch, the coaching staff citing “hamstring tightness,” so Mohammed Abu was once again called in to deputize in the central midfield. Crew SC missed the Brazilian’s presence in the middle of the park badly, though for once that’s not really an indictment of Abu’s play.
Abu didn’t play particularly poorly, but this match really screamed for Artur’s dynamism, his ability to cover loads of ground, and his workrate. Abu’s more sedentary style allowed Orlando to pass the ball more freely through the midfield, which made it far more difficult for Crew SC to gain any sort of foothold. Artur has quickly become a vital cog in the Columbus machine, and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to wonder if the Black & Gold would have come out with three points had he been available.
The consensus opinion is that Federico Higuain probably could have played last night. More than a few eyebrows, including mine, were raised when the lineups were released and he was nowhere to be found. Speculation is that he was being rested for the ever tricky “middle game” of the three matches in eight days, coming up this Wednesday, but it’s still a surprising move.
Considering the next few games are against Western Conference teams, and Saturday’s clash was against an Eastern opponent, one chasing the team in the standings to boot, it seems odd that priority was given to the midweek match. Had Crew SC left Orlando with a win, Berhalter would have looked like a genius, but considering the dropping of two points, the question has to be asked: Why didn’t Pipa play such a crucial game?
Oh where oh where is our Ola?
Ola Kamara didn’t have much of an impact Saturday night. This was particularly disappointing because Orlando played with two young center backs, and there was definitely space for the crafty forward to exploit
Kamara was held to a quiet night, however, managing only one shot on the evening. This was partially because Crew SC were unable to execute its usual patient, slow build up, rather playing in quick, direct bursts, usually on the counter attack. How much of this was game plan or game flow is open for debate, but regardless, it is obvious Ola under performed.
He’s not the type of attacker to create something out of nothing, instead being more adept at finding the spaces in behind defenses, so this match should have been right up his alley. Why wasn’t it? It could have just been a bad night, but there have also been rumors of discontent within camp Kamara, and while that’s pure speculation, fans can’t help but wonder if that may have had something to do with it.
Holding on to a point, on the road, down a man late is a good result, taken in a bubble. The problem is, the time for “in a bubble” has come and gone. With so little of the season left, every point dropped, even those dropped in a gritty draw, matter.
While this draw kept Orlando from making up any ground on the Black & Gold, results elsewhere saw the Montreal Impact move level on points. Montreal has two games in hand and Atlanta United has four. The race is a tight one, and even though Saturday saw the Black & Gold put on a gritty performance, it was still two points dropped, and we are getting in to the point of the season where that is just not okay.
This next three game home stand may end up deciding Columbus’ season, but even if the team wins out, it is likely still out of its hands. That’s never a good place to be.