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Game Grades: Crew vs. Portland Timbers

A lackluster result leads to a mediocre report card versus Portland.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers waltzed into Columbus with an anemic offense and porous defense. Unfortunately for Caleb Porter and his Columbus Crew players SC, the Timbers finished the minimal amount of chances they created. In fact, when Portland took an early 2-0 lead, it was their first multi-goal advantage of the season. The game marked a second straight defeat for the Black & Gold and the first at MAPFRE Stadium under Caleb Porter.

Let’s take a look at the individual Crew grades from the match:

Starting XI

Zack Steffen (5): In his worst statistical performance of the season, Steffen gave up three goals, while only being credited with two saves. A set piece goal in the 31st minute came off a header from point-blank range, though it was a shot he would have likely saved “8 or 9 times out of 10” the goalkeeper admitted after the match. The second and third goals-against were more attributed to the lackluster defense by Crew field players. Regardless, he didn’t make the saves needed or have the backline organized accordingly.

Hector Jimenez (5): It was a tame performance from the utilitarian outside back, who had minimal noteworthy plays. Though a member of the backline going unnoticed is often times much more positive than a negative, Jimenez’s offensive footprint in this match was negligible.

Jonathan Mensah (4.5): The hulking centerback almost found his name on the scoresheet in the 26th minute off of a set piece, but the dangerous header just trickled wide. Jonathan was ball watching on the second goal and found himself in no-mans land on the build up to the third goal. This was without question his most disappointing match of his 2019 campaign.

Gaston Sauro (5): In his first start in nearly a month, the Argentine defenders play was mediocre at best, as both centerbacks looked discombobulated defensively. Their man-marking was uninspiring on all three Timbers goals and as it pertains to near misses by Portland. Offensively, Sauro nearly found his third set piece goal of the season, with a 64th-minute header that narrowly missed the target.

Waylon Francis (5.5): While it was not a night to write home about, of the four Crew backline members, Francis had the best shift. The Costa Rican connected passes and found his way up the wing more so than Jimenez. Francis was stout defensively as well.

Artur (5): Saturday night was another ho-hum outing for the Brazilian midfielder. Artur failed to make a positive impact offensively in the first half, while his turnover and lack of tracking back led to the Timbers second goal. The second half saw Artur step up his urgency, where we saw him begin to roam freely throughout the field, connecting passes in the offensive third of the pitch, but it was too little too late.

Wil Trapp (5): In this match we didn’t see many of the long-ball, point-of-attack switching passes we have grown accustomed to seeing from the Crew skipper. As was the case with his centerback teammates and center midfield partner, Trapp was caught ball watching in the 35th minute, allowing Jeremy Ebobisse to acquire the ball just outside the six-yard box and score uncontested.

Pedro Santos (7): The Portuguese winger found himself starting the match on the left side, where he was mostly ineffective. Porter moved Santos to his usual right side in the 60th minute, following the substitution of Robinho, and wouldn’t you know it, Santos found the back of the net just nine minutes later. The lone Crew goal was due to a ghastly turnover by Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinela, and finished via an astutely placed chip by the Designated Player. Beyond the goal, Santos created chances in spurts and made runs throughout his 90 minutes of play.

Federico Higuain (7.5): Even in defeat, the maestro was on his game. After a bumbling clearance by Attinela in the ninth minute, Higuain collected the ball and saw his attempt on goal miss by the slimmest of margins. Pipa’s passing was pinpoint and timely as always. His workrate was second to none, as the 34 year old hustled throughout the field. Higuain almost knotted the game up in the 86th minute, but his volley strike found itself directly into the mitts of Attinela.

Robinho (5.5): The Brazilian started on the right side for the first time this season and had a middling performance. His touch was a bit heavy at times, though we were privy to some of that attacking flair and footwork we are becoming accustomed to from the 24 year old. In the 28th minute, the crafty winger had his most menacing chance on goal all season. He received a cheeky pass from Higuain and blasted a shot that was well saved by Attinela. The ball fell back to the feet of Robinho, though his follow-up attempt was deflected out of bounds for a corner. He was pulled in the 60th minute.

Gyasi Zardes (5): The work rate was there, but the clinical finishing was not. Zardes was unable to put himself in truly dangerous positions in the 18-yard box. He had a mere one shot on goal and created minimal opportunities for teammates. It was a pedestrian performance for the lone striker.

Justin Meram (5): Subbed in at the 60-minute mark for Robinho, and was moved over to his normal left wing, but was unimpactful. Meram failed to register a shot of any kind. And he actually looked a bit gassed by the 80th minute. Not a super-sub performance out of the Iraqi international.

Eduardo Sosa (5): A bit of a surprise substitution by Porter in the 83rd minute, in place of Artur. Sosa did come in and immediately earned the team a free kick opportunity. However on the third goal for Portland, Sosa should have been marking Cristhian Paredes, but instead he was simply pointing in his general direction. Paredes received a pass in the penalty box and dealt the assist for the nail in the coffin Timbers third goal. The sequence was unremarkably lazy for anyone, let alone from a fresh late-game substitute.

JJ Williams (NA): Entered the game for Hector Jimenez in the 88th minute, leaving little opportunity for the big man to make a meaningful impact in the game.

Caleb Porter (5): Porter stated earlier this week that they wanted to be more lethal and efficient with crossing, hence the positional swap of the wingers to their natural foot. The tactic was not successful in leading to goals, though Columbus was able to accumulate 28 crosses. Given that crosses from the width were such a focal point in training this week, the question has to be asked, why was the player with the best aptitude to score with his head, JJ Williams, not inserted earlier? Williams scored not one, but two goals while on loan with Birmingham Legion last week, including one with his head. Porter may have over thought this match with his former club. It certainly was not the result he or Columbus had expected.