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Crew beaten by Timbers for third defeat of the year

The Black & Gold allow a winless Portland to come to MAPFRE and earn a victory.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

What did Caleb Porter think of Columbus Crew SC’s 3-1 loss?

Posted by Massive Report on Saturday, April 20, 2019

Columbus Crew SC talked this week about deserving more from last Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, just the team’s second defeat of the 2019 season. The Black & Gold will know they got exactly what they deserved following a 3-1 loss to the previously winless Portland Timbers in front of more than 11,000 at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night.

The game began with the Black & Gold certainly on the front foot. Ten minutes into the match and the Crew should have been up 1-0. A poor and short clearance by Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella fell to Columbus creative midfielder Federico Higuain 25 yards from goal. With Attinella rushing back to his goal line, Higuain attempted a chip that might have beaten the goalkeeper but was put wide of the net.

Eleven minutes later and another golden opportunity came and went for the Black & Gold, this time courtesy of Gyasi Zardes. Winger Pedro Santos had time out wide to pick out a cross and put the ball on the head of the striker. Zardes, who made a good run, could not redirect the ball properly, putting his attempt wide of the back post.

Throughout the season, Columbus has been dangerous on set pieces, scoring three times from dead balls. The Crew almost added another set piece goal in the 26th minute when Higuain’s free kick found Jonathan Mensah -- the only starting center back not to have scored this year -- with a headed effort that missed the post by mere inches.

Two minutes later and it was again the home side in a dangerous position inside the penalty box. A crafty flick from Higuain near the top of the penalty box sprung Brazilian winger Robinho behind the defense with time. Robinho’s first shot was saved by Attinella. He then retrieved the rebound and fired a shot that was deflected behind for a corner kick.

In the 30th minute, Jonathan again had a great chance to open his 2019 account and give the Crew the lead. This time, he got to the back post on a corner kick and headed down the effort on frame. Attinella didn’t know much about the shot but made a save.

Despite the flurry of Columbus chances, the home side went through the opening 30 minutes without finding the back of the net. One minute later, the Black & Gold would severely regret their missed opportunities.

After a foul outside the Crew penalty area, Portland midfielder Diego Valeri delivered a free kick to the back post where central defender Larrys Mabiala hit a powerful header on target to give the visitors the lead. Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who hadn’t allowed a goal at MAPFRE Stadium since the sixth minute of the season-opening game, got a hand on the ball but put it off the post before it crossed the line.

The score went from bad to worse for the Black & Gold just four minutes later. Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse dropped into the midfield to retrieve the ball before spraying it out wide. No Columbus player tracked the striker as he made a run toward the penalty spot and was in a perfect spot for Sebastian Blanco to find. It was then a one-touch finish for Ebobisse for the 2-0 lead before the half.

With the two-goal advantage to begin the second half, Portland was content with putting seven, eight and sometimes even nine players behind the ball as the Crew attacked and look to counter when the opportunity presented itself.

After again controlling much of the run of play, the Black & Gold were finally rewarded in the 69th minute. The opportunity came from another bad Attinella clearance from inside his own penalty area. Unlike Higuain in the first half, Santos collected the ball quickly and his chip found the back of the net to half the deficit.

In the 71st minute, Ebobisse almost found his second goal of the night, latching on to a cross and heading an effort just over the crossbar. Higuain also had a chance in the 86th minute, when the ball fell to him from just over 20 yards out. His shot was not hit well and rolled right to Attinella.

Before the final whistle, the Timbers would add the third goal to seal the victory. Coming from the left of Portland’s attacking side, the visitors were able to pass right through the Columbus backline with Blanco finding Cristhian Paredes who unselfishly played in a wide-open Jorge Moreira for the finish by Steffen.

Tactical tweaks

Crew head coach Caleb Porter didn’t do much in the way of lineup changes for this game, simply bringing Gaston Sauro back at center back. What he did do to change things was switch wingers Pedro Santos and Robinho. Traditionally the Black & Gold play with inverted wingers, so they can cut in on their dominant foot when attacking and shoot. In this game, they played on their natural sides, allowing them to cross with their dominant foot.

Whether it worked or not is up for debate. Santos’ goal came after Justin Meram substituted into the game for Robinho and the two switched sides. If the Crew got more crosses into the penalty box, it wasn’t much more and they certainly did not lead to goals.

Offensive woes continue; defense gets leaky

Eight games into the 2019 MLS season and the Black & Gold have scored eight goals. It’s been the story of the last season-plus that this team just struggles to score goals. Caleb Porter and his players believe the goals will come, but the Timbers have the league’s second-worst defense, yet the Crew could not break them down.

On top of that, the Columbus defense, which was tied for the best in MLS entering Saturday, made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Steffen could have certainly done better on Portland’s first goal and Wil Trapp, Artur, Jonathan Mensah and Gaston Sauro were all out of position or unaware of what was going on around them for the second.

The defense may have just had a bad night but the offense is certainly an issue that shows no signs of being fixed.

What’s next

The Crew won’t have to think about this defeat for long. D.C. United comes to MAPFRE Stadium on Wednesday. That game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET.