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What We Learned: Crew vs Minnesota United

Our biggest takeaways from the Black & Gold’s loss in St. Paul.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night featured Columbus Crew SC traveling to St. Paul to take on Minnesota United. As has become the trend over the last month or so, it was another disappointing weekend for the Black & Gold, who fell 1-0 to United, the team’s sixth defeat in the last seven games.

Here are our major takeaways from the loss:

Pedro Santos has become the Crew’s offensive catalyst.

Santos faced a lot of criticism over the last season-plus. The winger was brought in late in 2017 and has scored just three goals in 52 regular season games. But Santos has been the Black & Gold’s best offensive player this season, contributing two goals to an offense that struggles to find the back of the net.

With Santos back in Portugal due to a family illness, Columbus was even more anemic offensively. The Crew had just four shots, none on target, over the 90 minutes and earned only three corner kicks, something this team usually gets with a regularity. While the struggles offensively weren’t all due to a lack of Santos on the field, the Black & Gold missed his creativity on the ball and were unimaginative when they did have possession in the offensive third.

Gyasi Zardes isn’t doing enough offensively

Zardes has never been a player that creates on his own. Even as a winger, there was not a ton he was going to do with the ball at his feet and he’s not the type of player to take on a defender 1 v. 1. But right now Zardes is not active enough and part of the reason the Crew is struggling offensively — remember, last year he scored 19 of the team’s 43 goals and did so because he got in good spots and his teammates found him.

I’ve asked Zardes and head coach Caleb Poter about the forward’s lack of touches in games this year and neither seem concerned. Against Minnesota, Zardes had only 23 touches of the ball, 10 fewer than any other starter. While I’m OK with Zardes not touching the ball a lot, although I’d think the Black & Gold would want more than 23, he needs to be getting the ball in offensive areas and certainly have more than zero shots, especially now that he has the Designated Player tag.

Jon Kempin is good enough

No matter what happens after Zack Steffen leaves for Manchester City, the Crew is going to see a regression with the team’s goalkeeper. Steffen is the best ‘keeper in MLS and has a rare combination of skills, size and mental toughness. That doesn’t just go on trees. After going with Joe Bendik in the first two games this year without Steffen, Porter elected to turn to Kempin and he played well, making two saves and organizing his defense correctly.

Despite allowing three goals in each of his two starts, I don’t think Bendik has been that poor. He’s made a few good saves and some of the goals conceded had more to do with not playing much or a mistake by his defense. With that said, Porter felt Kempin deserved a shot and he took advantage of it. This will be an interesting battle to continue to monitor.

Defensive set pieces have become an issue

The Crew started the year looking like set pieces could be a strength. They were getting good offensive production from dead ball situations and defending them well. But during this recent slide, set pieces have been the opponent’s friend, allowing them to find goals against what has otherwise been a solid defense. That was the case again against United when too many players were watching the ball instead of Ethan Finlay.

For a team that is struggling to find goals on the offensive end, the defense has to be solid if the Black & Gold are going to turn things around. The defense was good enough against Minnesota, but one play where players switched off on a set piece turned what could have been a satisfactory road point into another disappointing loss.

What were your takeaways from the match? Let us know in the comment section below.