The first game of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday evening didn’t go as planned for Columbus Crew SC. Despite the Black & Gold earning a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire, the game turned on its head after just 30 minutes when captain and midfielder Wil Trapp was issued a red card for what was deemed a late and reckless tackle.
”I do think — we all know Wil. He’s an honest player, not a dirty player and I think he slipped a little bit on the play,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “But also, he knows he’s got to be careful going into tackles like that.”
It’s not often to see an ejection in a preseason friendly, but the referee deemed Trapp’s challenge to be worthy of a sending off and, after just 30 minutes, Columbus was down to 10 men.
Before the red card, the Crew was controlling the game. Despite the Fire opening the scoring against the run of play in the 17th minute, the Black & Gold maintained their composure, continued to play their game and responded with an equalizer nine minutes later.
“I thought we came out in a very good way,” Porter said on Tuesday. “I thought we came out and played aggressively. We were pressing up the pitch. We were starting to get a grip on the game. We were able to get in behind them two or three times and create chances. We had the one where I thought the goalkeeper was outside the box and handled the ball.
“We played in a good way with the ball, we were able to create chances. When you look at the goal, that is what I would say is an excellent depiction of how we want to play. It was 10 passes back to front, we lost the ball, we immediately counter-pressed, Pipa won the ball and then it was four passes and a goal. Early in the preseason, we weren’t seeing those habits and behaviors as well as we saw in that game. So I’m really pleased with the way this group is looking to press a little higher, I’m really pleased that they’re getting more control in the front half.”
The opening 30 minutes is what fans should expect from Columbus this year. The team is going to be aggressive and look to control the game on the offensive end. The only mistake — if you can call it that — happened on a deflection that led to the Fire goal, and even that came from an impressive shot from recent U.S. Men’s National Team debutant Djordje Mihailovic.
But then Trapp went into the tackle, slip or not, and was sent to the locker room early. This ejection after just a third of the match altered how Porter wanted to play in one of his team’s final preseason games.
With the Black & Gold down a man, it was more difficult to keep control of the ball. The Crew switched from its typical 4-2-3-1 formation into a 4-4-1 look, hoping to at least keep things level at one apiece.
Despite only getting a draw, Porter was pleased with how his side dealt with the red card blow.
“I thought the attitude, I thought the character and the resiliency that the group showed playing down a man for 60 minutes — and not just stopping Chicago from scoring a goal, but having the better of the chances. I thought with a little bit more luck, we might’ve come out of there with three points,” Porter said.
In the second half, as the Black & Gold players tired, Chicago was able to increase its pressure in the attacking third, yet Columbus continued to try and build out of the back. Although this did create turnovers that led to Fire chances, the Crew was able to maintain the scoreline and get a result in the preseason tournament.
While playing 90 minutes with 11 men on the field and seeing what that looks like — this being the first preseason match with stars Trapp, Gyasi Zardes and Zack Steffen all playing together under Porter — getting a result against another Major League Soccer side despite the disadvantage will be something to build on for this team.
There will undoubtedly come a point in the 2019 season when the Black & Gold are again reduced to 10 men and have to find a way to get a result. Despite it being only preseason, this will be a moment the players can look back on and find confidence in that they can be successful when these situations arise.
Columbus will have another chance to build on the result against the Fire in the penultimate game of the preseason on Wednesday evening when the Crew faces the Charleston Battery. For this game, Porter plans to handle things differently, rotating his team completely and playing guys different minutes based on their fitness levels before the final preseason game against FC Cincinnati with the starters on Saturday.
“We will rotate our group on Wednesday, so we’ll play an entirely new group on Wednesday,” the head coach said. “And then we’ll go back to another group on Saturday evening. And we will play a game in the morning as well. We’re continuing to build the minutes up for our entire group. Wednesday with a new group and Saturday, the last game of the tournament will be really important for our preparation for March 2.”