Columbus Crew SC began its defense of the Carolina Challenge Cup with a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire on Saturday evening. The Black & Gold, who played down a man for 60 minutes after a red card to captain Wil Trapp, managed to get a result despite falling behind early in the preseason tournament.
Columbus came out the more aggressive team in the match. The Crew controlled the opening portion of the game, possessing the ball and moving the Fire around the field in the attacking half.
Twelve minutes in, it was the Crew with the first good chance of the game. The ball found winger Justin Meram on the left side of the field with space. After a long first touch, Meram played a low pass across the six-yard box that was redirected on frame by forward Gyasi Zardes but saved by Chicago goalkeeper David Ousted.
One minute later, Zardes has another chance that Ousted again denied. This time the ball was flicked over the Fire defense and found the forward one on one with Ousted but the shot was right into the gut of the on-rushing keeper.
Seventeen minutes into the game and Chicago found the opening goal against the run of play. Fire midfielder Dax McCarty found Aleksandar Katai who was tackled but the ball bounced right to recent U.S. international Djordje Mihailovic, who fired a shot from the top of the penalty box that beat Zack Steffen for a 1-0 lead.
Despite conceding the first goal, the Crew continued to press forward. Nine minutes after going down 1-0, the Black & Gold found the equalizer through Zardes. After some nifty footwork by Federico Higuain in midfield, left back Waylon Francis served a ball onto the head of Zardes who finished to pull the game level.
Just four minutes after the excitement of the equalizer, the Black & Gold were dealt a difficult blow. Trapp went into a tackle near midfield that resulted in both players going down. When the Crew midfielder pulled himself off the ground, the referee showed him a straight red card. Video Assistant Review check the play and deemed that Trapp, who went in with a scissor tackle and had his cleats exposed, was indeed sent off and Columbus was down to 10 men.
Even being down a man in the match, Columbus continued to create chances. Higuain again played maestro in the 36th minute, playing the ball over the top looking for Pedro Santos. Ousted was again quick off his line, beating the Black & Gold winger to the ball.
The two teams went into the locker room level at one despite the Crew controlling much of the play. But the second half started off more in the Fire’s favor, as being a man down began to have its impact on the Black & Gold over the second 45 minutes.
Mihailovic had another good chance from the top of the penalty area in the 54th minute. The 20-year-old midfielder received a pass and fired a quick curling effort that went just over Steffen’s crossbar.
In the 63rd minute, Steffen was called upon to make a big save after a shot from near the top of the penalty box. The rebound fell to Fabian Herbers who played a ball across the face of the goal for Nemanja Nikolic to tap home but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside.
As the second half progressed, the Crew continued to try to play out of the back but Chicago smartly used the team’s man advantage to make that difficult, turning the Black & Gold over on numerous occasions. In the 68th minute, a turnover by Harrison Afful led to a shot from inside the penalty area for the Fire that, fortunately for the Black & Gold, went off the post.
In the 80th minute, Columbus had its best chance of the second half. Francis streaked down the left side of the field with the ball, serving a cross near the six-yard box. The ball was just behind Santos, who tried to flick a shot with his heel but couldn’t make contact.
After 90-plus minutes, the center official blew the whistle to end the match and the Crew and the Fire split the points in the preseason tournament.
While the Crew’s playmaker is active in every game he plays, Higuain had to be even more mobile after Trapp’s red card. The 34 year old was more of a box-to-box midfielder for much of the game, dropping all the way back to the defense to receive the ball and trying to get Columbus out of the back.
When Higuain came off in the 70th minute, it was clear he had put in a good shift and the fatigue from more running than normal was evident.
Red card change
It was unfortunate to see the Crew go down to 10 men after 30 minutes. It’s not that Trapp didn’t deserve the red card, but more that it prevented the Black & Gold from continuing to work on what the team has been doing all preseason. Although Columbus handled things well to close out the first half, it was clear the red card was a factor in the second 45 minutes.
If this was a regular season game, it’s likely head coach Caleb Porter would have adjusted his team and played a bit more direct. Given that it is still preseason the manager likely wanted to see how his team would play under the pressure of having a man disadvantage.
The Crew will continue in the Challenge Cup on Wednesday in a date with host side Charleston Battery. That game will kick off at 5 p.m. ET.