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What We Learned: Crew vs. Portland Timbers

Our takeaways from a tough loss to the Timbers

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

Columbus Crew SC suffered the team’s second straight loss, falling 3-1 to the Portland Timbers on Saturday night. The visitors were previously winless and had the second-worst defense coming into the week. The 2019 season likely will depend on how the team responds to what they learned in a tough loss.

Here is what we learned:

This team has serious offensive problems

Eight games is nearly a quarter of the way through the Major League Soccer schedule. That’s enough to tease out some truths about this Crew team and it’s clear this team is struggling offensively. They have scored eight goals this season making the math simple, Columbus is scoring a goal per game. That’s not going to get the team into the playoffs over the course of a full season.

This actually goes further than this season. The 2018 version of the Black & Gold had the league’s second-worst attack, scoring only 41 goals over 34 games for 1.2 goals per game. Gyasi Zardes had an outstanding goal total with 19, but there was little production elsewhere. This season, the scoring is a little more diversified, Gaston Sauro and Josh Williams have combined for three of the eight goals and Pedro Santos has a couple, while Zardes has scored in just two games and been minimally dangerous in the other contests. The end result is a goal per game, which is not good enough for a team that aspires to a deep playoff run.

Santos the scorer

If there is a surprise on offense, it’s the team’s Portuguese Designated Player Pedro Santos. He added a second goal on the season on Saturday but has been making an impact all over the field. He has also added two assists on the year. Whether being asked to link play by tucking in the half-space or playing wide, fans are finally seeing the game-changing impact they hoped to see when he was signed in midseason nearly two years ago.

Santos scored once in his first 39 games with the team over second part of the 2017 and the whole of the 2018 season. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. He was second on the team with 72 shots last year. The improvement this year is that he’s taking better shots. In 2018, he averaged .059 expected goals per shot. These efforts were from worse positions and he took a lot of them. This season he’s averaging .088 expect goals per shot. That’s a big jump. His shots are better and he’s getting results.

Nothing in reserve

Down 2-0, Caleb Porter waited until the 60th minute to make his first change. He brought on Justin Meram to replace Robinho. He then waited over 20 minutes more to make his next changes. He brought on Eduardo Sosa for his second appearance of the season in the 83rd minute, replacing Artur. Then he brought on rookie JJ Williams in the 88th minute for Hector Jimenez.

With the offense struggling to finish, perhaps Porter should have subbed earlier. But the combined efforts of those off the bench led to none of the team’s 17 shots.

The subs have combined for no goals and four shots all season. Robinho has one, Meram has one, Patrick Mullins has one and Williams leads the way with two. That’s not enough production to chance the course of a game or have those in the stands clamoring for a change. Without impact off the bench, the Crew has to rely on the misfiring starters until someone proves they can be a game-changer.

What stood out for you or what should we have learned from Saturday night’s Crew loss?