Columbus Crew SC fans likely left MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday a bit confused.
After seeing the team win the last four matches at home, the Black & Gold faithful left the stands with the taste of disappointment in their mouths following a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City.
It wasn’t so much that the team failed to earn all three points at home for the first time since July 1, but rather how it happened.
After forward Ola Kamara and winger Pedro Santos combined on the equalizing goal just before halftime, Columbus struggled to carry the momentum into the second 45 minutes.
“What I would say is that the rust that you guys have been warning us about was certainly evident,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said postgame. “You can tell that we hadn’t played in a couple of weeks, you can tell that we were a little bit leggy today.
I thought the first half was a good half, a lot of give and take in terms of us attacking and them attacking us and in the second half we lost movement, we gave balls away too easily. When you look at 71 percent passing accuracy in the second half, it wasn’t good enough.
“What we missed in the second half was our game, was moving the ball around and putting them in uncomfortable positions. One cross in the second half. It’s not good enough.”
What makes this even more confusing for fans was the 64th minute substitution of both Kamara and Santos that took two of the team’s most dangerous attacking players off the field.
Speculation was that the Kamara change had to do with the striker’s leg issue during the international break and not being at 100 percent, something Berhalter confirmed following the match.
“Ola in the last two weeks has basically trained full one day,” he explained. “So we knew that he was going to struggle. He was a guy that we identified before the game that might have some difficulties.”
No explanation was given for the Santos change, but the midfielder said following the game that he felt good but respected Berhalter’s decision.
These substitutions would have been less head scratching had the players coming on made an impact on the match. But both forward Adam Jahn and midfielder Cristian Martinez struggled over the final 25 minutes as the offense disappeared for Crew SC.
“I think it was difficult for Adam in the game and I’ll say the same for Cristian,” Berhalter said. “You want substitutes to come in and make an immediate impact and I think they both struggled in this game to make that impact that we were looking for.”
The other questionable change came in the 84th minute when, with a chance to try and steal and late goal and get an 11th win home win of the season despite being outplayed, Berhalter brought on fullback Harrison Afful for Hector Jimenez.
That meant winger Justin Meram remained on the field despite playing for Iraq over the international break and traveling back to Columbus on Thursday.
Kekuta Manneh, a speedy player who could have run at a tired defense, stayed on the bench as the Black & Gold settled for a draw.
“Yes, we did,” Berhalter said when asked if the staff considered bringing in Manneh. “I think it was more of a question of as Kekuta’s getting ready to come into the game, we’re looking at what (Kansas City) is doing, looking at our right back, Hector, who was fatiguing and we thought we needed a defensive reinforcement at that time. Kekuta was certainly a candidate to come in.”
All things considered, a draw and maintaining the team’s unbeaten run is not the worst result. But considering how tight the Eastern Conference is, three points at home would have put the Black & Gold in a much better position with five games remaining.