In what could be considered an early season David versus Goliath battle, Columbus fell short 3-0 in front of 18,048 fans at MAPFRE Stadium. While the scoreline showed a three goal deficit, the result was not necessarily indicative to the play on the field. It was the third match in only eight days for Columbus Crew SC, and it showed as the energy level waned in the final 10 minutes of play. It wasn’t until the 88th minute that the wheels fell off for Columbus, as they conceded two goals in the matches final minutes.
Columbus started the match in a 4-3-3 formation for the first time this season. Regular starters Zack Steffen (minor foot injury), Federico Higuain (rest), and Waylon Francis (minor injury) were all out of the starting lineup. In their place, Joe Bendik started in goal, Josh Williams slotted into the right back spot and Hector Jimenez pushed to left back spot, while newly acquired David Guzman made his first start.
Los Angeles has the firepower to score goals at will and have given up the least amount defensively in all of Major League Soccer. Naturally, being the top team in the league, LAFC came out confident and looking to force their will. From the opening whistle, the Crew were not satisfied to sit back and absorb pressure. Instead, Columbus was willing to be the aggressor. The aggression from both sides started early and occurred often, leading to a black and blue contest, with fouls, bumps, bruises and physical play. In response, head referee Nima Saghafi called several ticky-tack fouls, likely in an effort to tame the vigorous play.
The high-powered Los Angeles club was stymied throughout most of the first 45-minute stanza. However, in the 37th minute Marc-Anthony Kaye slotted, what may have been an errant pass, into the back of the net, assisted by Latif Blessing and Mexican international, Carlos Vela. Attempting to build off that momentum, LAFC quickly countered, when Vela streaked down the Crew’s left-hand side, sent a dangerous cross through the penalty box near the spot kick spot, finding an on-running Diego Rossi in the 39th minute for a point-blank save by Joe Bendik.
Despite the pressure and willingness to trade blows with the league giant, Columbus registered zero shots on goal in the first half. In fact, the first and only true shot came during stoppage time of the first 45 minutes when Gyasi Zardes setup David Guzman for a strike, but the Costa Rican national team star failed to hit on frame
The second half saw Federico Higuain sub in for Artur. With his insertion, the Crew modified its tactics and switched to a 4-2-1-3 formation. It didn’t take long for Pipa to assert himself, as he demanded the ball at every moment possible, creating a number of chances for the Columbus Black & Gold. Higuain found pockets of space against Los Angeles, which is unusual given how LA’s team defense tends smother opposition players with the ball. Disappointingly, the chances created were unable to render a goal, which has been the ongoing story of the Crew’s 2019 season.
Not to be outdone by Joe Bendik with his first-half point-blank save, LAFC goalkeeper, Tyler Miller made a beautiful first save of the match in the 59th minute, when he stonewalled Pedro Santos, who blasted a shot from near the top of the 18-yard box. The shot was well struck, but fired directly at the LA keeper.
The middle portion of the second half saw a lull in attacking from both squads. The furious back and forth play settled into a kickball affair until the 74th minute when Columbus scored what they thought would be their first goal of the match. Zardes received a pass behind the LAFC backline and snuck the shot under the arm of Tyler Miller. The 6-foot-4 netminder got a piece of the strike, but it trickled into the goal. Unfortunately, for Columbus Zardes was called offside, an accurate call when viewed on replay. It ended up being the final truly dangerous scoring opportunity for Columbus.
That was not the case for Los Angeles, as they capitalized on a gift of a goal when center back Jonathan Mensah and Joe Bendik had a massive miscommunication in the 88th minute. Mensah headed a ball back towards his goal, while Bendik came running to the top of the penalty box to claim the ball himself. The erratic pass bounced straight to an on-running Josh Perez, who clanked his wide-open strike off of the crossbar. Forward, Adama Diomande astutely followed up on the shot and buried the strike, putting a nail in the Crew’s coffin.
The visitors were not done yet, as league leading goalscorer, Carlos Vela gained possession of the ball near the midfield line, danced through the Crew backline and slotted home a beautiful goal from 25-yards out. The blast came off his renowned left-foot in the 90th minute, putting the exclamation point on a 3-0 win for the California Black & Gold.
Head coach Caleb Porter said he was proud of the first 85 minutes. But the Crew once again failed to tally a score and found a way to give up another cheap goal. That is a recipe for disaster for any team, and the culprit for the Crew’s run of losses over the last month. Porter was adamant his group “went toe-to-toe with the Manchester City of MLS” up until the unforced turnover and second goal. He emphasized that Columbus has to finish the chances created and refrain from continuing to concede cheap goals. After another unfortunate result, Columbus will need to get refreshed and bounce back one week from Saturday, as they take on Minnesota on the road at Allianz Stadium.
It was evident that Carlos Vela and LAFC were quite the draw, as the biggest crowd of the season (18,048) was on hand at MAPFRE Stadium.
Welcome to Crewville
The Crew’s newest player made his debut, as speedy winger, David Accam made his way onto the pitch in the 65th minute, substituting for Robinho. His dynamic pace and skill was on display during the 79th minute, as he nearly found a goal. After burning the Los Angeles backline and ripping a shot on goal from just inside the 18-yard box, but it deflected off of a defender before reaching its target
Columbus will be on the road next weekend, as they travel to Minnesota to battle Minnesota United at their brand-new home, Allianz Stadium. Kickoff is Saturday, May 18th at 8:00pm.