Columbus Crew SC opened the 2019 season against the New York Red Bull on Saturday afternoon in front of an electric crowd of nearly 18,000 at MAPFRE Stadium. The day felt like the dawn of a new era for Crew fans in nearly every way. Changes around the stadium experience, the new ownership introduction prior to the game and of course changes on the pitch as the Caleb Porter and Time Bezbatchenko era underway way.
The result wasn’t quite what the new Crew coach would have hoped for, as the match ended in a 1-1 draw. A full strength Black & Gold side just couldn’t do quite enough to edge out a heavily rotated Red Bull squad.
It didn’t start the way the Crew hoped, as Andreas Ivan found open space in the penalty box and put the ball in the back of the net in the opening 10 minutes. The Black & Gold equalized at the end of the first half off of a corner kick from Federico Higuain that found defender Gaston Sauro inside the six-yard box and the defender was able to head the ball into the goal.
Both teams battled in a physical second half but neither were clinical enough in the final third to create many chances.
Despite the disappointment of the draw, the Crew did show good signs in getting a point against a New York team fresh off of a Supporters’ Shield win a year ago. Let’s take a look at what we learned from this match and what areas of improvement there are for the team to build a strong start to the season.
Struggles Continue on the Wings
Despite Pedros Santos’ newfound confidence from the preseason, the Portuguese winger struggled to make an impact in the match. He did run all over the field and I was impressed with his willingness to track back throughout the match.
With that being said, Santos just wasn’t very effective on offense. His passing lacked accuracy and his decision-making was questionable at times. He did have a few chances throughout the game that showed glimpses of his potential if he can find his form that brought him to Columbus as a Designated Player in the first place.
On the other side of the pitch, Justin Meram didn’t provide much production on the day. He showed promise in linking back up with left back Waylon Francis during the first half and did provide the solid runs that he’s been known to make that allowed him to have such a strong 2016.
Unfortunately, none of his runs or link up play was able to produce goals in the final third prior to being subbed off.
Robinho, the new signing, came on for Meram for the last 10 minutes of the match and really showed glimpses of what got him noticed by former head coach Gregg Berhalter last season. The Brazilian’s pace was evident as he made the field wider as soon as he came on the pitch.
On top of his pace, Robinho showed glimpses of intelligence on the ball and made it difficult for New York to close out the match comfortably. Crew fans have a lot to be excited about with the youngster as he can be a real spark as a sub or even in the starting 11.
Given the form of the Crew’s two starting wingers, it’s not out of the question for Robinho to push his teammates for playing time and push Porter to find more time for him on the pitch as the season advances.
Positioning on the backline
Columbus’ backline was strong for much of the game, making clearances, interceptions and largely making life difficult for New York’s attack. Despite a relatively solid performance by the four in the back, there are areas to improve on.
For the Red Bulls’ only goal, Harrison Afful was caught way out of position on a cross leaving Ivan wide open on goal. This is uncharacteristic for Afful but is something the backline will continue to have to improve on.
Afful wasn’t the only one who was found out of position throughout the match. The rest of the backline all had dangerous moments throughout the match but were able to make up it for it with their athleticism and the help of their teammates.
Getting Used to the System
The overall performance of the team left something to be desired. It’s certainly not out of the question to believe that this is the squad still getting used to the intricacies of Porter’s system and its demands.
Central midfielders Artur and Wil Trapp both looked out of sorts at times, with Artur making uncharacteristic dangerous passes several times and Trapp not quite looking comfortable on the front foot.
On the attacking end, forward Gyasi Zardes found it difficult to break through New York’s backline. His runs often found him offside or not being to connect well with crosses and passes into the penalty box.
Federico Higuain had his usual brilliant moments but also had spells throughout the match where he disappeared. Pipa was effective on set pieces though, finding Sauro on the corner kick and putting in dangerous balls when given the opportunity.
Heading into a tough stretch of matches, it will be important for the team to continue their comfort level and development with Porter’s philosophies and system. Despite being quite similar to Berhalter’s old system, the players are asked to do more and it seems that for some of them, it might take some time and games to get fully used to.
What were your takeaways from the match? Post your comments down below.