D.C. United had one shot on target and it was the one that went in. Columbus had 24 shots, five on target and none would fall. The 1-0 loss gives Columbus Crew SC have their first three game losing streak since May 2014.
D.C. opened the scoring early as Columbus struggled from the opening whistle. The hosts hemmed in Crew SC from the start. Nick DeLeon sent in a ball to playmaker Luciano Acosta. He sent a back heeled pass to Paul Arriola. He sent a quick pass to Ulises Segura. He finished with a powerful shot past Zack Steffen to open the scoring within the opening minute.
The hosts nearly grabbed a second goal before the fifth minute off a set piece. Junior Moreno drove in a corner that defender Fredric Brillant met with a towering header. His clear shot powered wide of the Crew SC goal.
With the lead, the hosts settled in to a low defensive block and the Black & Gold started grabbing more possession, but had little to show for it as they were reduced to three long range shots just after a half an hour.
The offense would start to wake up just before halftime Columbus would have several chances. Cristian Martinez would fire Crew SC’s first shot on goal with a 25 yarder in the 44th minute and Columbus would get close just a minute later.
Harrison Afful would take a cutback pass and launch a shot through the United box. His attempt was off target, but an alert Gyasi Zardes would nearly get a diving header to redirect, but the ball skidded out for a goal kick.
Columbus wasn’t finished as the game moved into stoppage time to end the first half. Santos would pick up one of his six fouls. He’d settle over the ball and ring a free kick from distance off the crossbar.
United would find themselves down to 10 men as Paul Arriola came in with a tackle on Artur from behind that was initially given a yellow card, but upon video review was upgraded to a red in the 52nd minute.
The game, possession, and shots would tilt towards the visitors in the second half as Columbus would pile on pressure with the man advantage.
Santos again would come close to breaking through in the 61st minute. The ball was swung around to the left side. Milton Valenzuela whipped in a low cross that Zardes stopped. The ball skipped off the turf and Santos stabbed at it with his head at close range. Former Crew SC keeper Steve Clark kept the ball out with a miraculous save.
In the 66th minute, Zardes would have his chance to bring Crew SC back into the game. He powered a close range header that again tested Clark. The keeper was able to swat the ball and keep it from going behind the line. Play would continue and they didn’t review the play. On the limited replay angles, it appeared Clark had stopped the ball just short of fully clearing the goal line.
United would play stout defense as Crew SC increasingly struggled for ideas on offense. The visitors were reduced to playing in crosses on the narrow field. Columbus would launch nine shots in the last 20 minutes of the game. Only Hector Jimenez’s extra time shot caused Steve Clark any trouble.
The Columbus offense struggled to create real chances and as the game progressed it became clear that Crew SC had one idea, crosses into the box. Opta identified 46 Crew SC crosses; only six were successful. That is a 13% success rate. It’s never been an optimal strategy for Gregg Berhalter’s teams and that was very apparent against the United. Columbus was forced to run the offense through the wings and pitch hopeful balls to Adam Jahn. It failed.
Call to the Bench
Crew SC struggled to create, but they had few options on the bench. After going up a man, Berhalter replaced Martinez with Jahn to move to a two forward formation. The team struggled with offensive flow. Then he turned to Mohammed Abu for Josh Williams in an effort to get better long passing into the game, much like he did in Chicago. Lastly, he took out the team’s playmaker Higuain for Hector Jimenez. It indicated two things, the game had gotten away from Crew SC and they played dump it in the box soccer. Secondly, it highlighted how little Berhalter can change the game with his bench. The lack of attacking options finally, painfully created significant problems tonight.
After three straight losses that have dropped them to 3-3-1, they now have two games at home. Crew SC have a chance to turn things right next Saturday against the New England Revolution at 7:30 and the following Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes at 7:30. Columbus can use the home field advantage. Even with the dent in attendance from the singular “parallel path”, the diehards have continued to be loud in their support of the Black & Gold.