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What We Learned: Crew vs. Sporting Kansas City

Here are our biggest takeaways from the Black & Gold’s most recent loss.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Columbus Crew SC Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, Columbus Crew SC fell at home in a game that seemed ripe for the taking. This time, it was Sporting Kansas City who came to MAPFRE Stadium and left with a result, a 1-0 victory, on Sunday night.

The Black & Gold had plenty of chances in the first half to take the lead but failed to capitalize. Early in the second half, Sporting were gifted an opportunity thanks to poor defending and put the ball in the net. Aside from a Harrison Afful red card on a last-effort play to prevent a goal, that was all she wrote.

Here are Massive Report’s takeaways from the latest Crew defeat:

The injury bug isn’t getting any better

Columbus had over three weeks off between Major League Soccer matches due to the Gold Cup break. That was 22 day to get players back from injury. The Crew did that with the return of fullbacks Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis in this match. Unfortunately, 15 minutes into the game, another injury occurred.

After he was inadvertently clipped by goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 13th minute, winger David Accam remained down. Although he was able to get up and play on for a few minutes, the Ghanian did not last much longer before dropping to the MAPFRE Stadium field again and needing a substitute. Head coach Caleb Porter confirmed what those watching already knew, that Accam suffered a hamstring injury. The winger is getting an MRI and his status will be updated.

In a season that already has seen Afful, Francis, fullback Milton Valenzuela goalkeeper Zack Steffen center back Josh Williams and playmaker Federico Higuain suffer injuries that forced them to miss multiple games at the minimum, the last thing the Black & Gold needed was for Accam to join the injury report. Especially considering he was finally starting to find his rhythm with the Crew after coming over in a trade, scoring a goal apiece in the two U.S. Open Cup matches.

Sometimes, when it rains, it pours and it’s been a rainy season in Columbus so far.

The depth just isn’t there

This was a game that seemed like a win for the Crew. Sporting was another team dealing with injury absences, on-field struggles and hadn’t won a road game so far in 2019. It didn’t need to be pretty but the Black & Gold needed three points out of this contest.

Yet missing the previously mentioned players due to injury, plus Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes ( U.S. National Team duty) and Jonathan Mensah (Ghanian National Team) apparently made this too tall of a task (not to mention Steffen, who won’t return to Columbus but is still technically a member of the team until July). Nearly any team in MLS that is without international players at center back, central midfield and forward, as well as the team’s top playmaker, is going to struggle. But the perceived depth the Crew thought it had is not playing anywhere near the standard set by the starters.

Alex Crognale and Gaston Sauro have been inconsistent at the back without Jonathan, once again allowing a cheap goal in this contest and nearly giving up another couple. David Guzman’s play is well below what the Black & Gold thought they were getting in the trade with the Portland Timbers earlier this year and Artur looks like a shell of the player he once was in Columbus. Patrick Mullins, while good at irritating the opponent’s backline, fails to convert chances and rookie JJ Williams, despite fans clamoring to see more of him, is wasteful and not in good positions frequently enough to be an MLS starter right now. While Pedro Santos has been suitable in the No. 10 role in relief of Higuain, it is clear he’s not meant to play in the middle of the field all the time and there’s been no good replacement for him on the wing.

When injuries hit, depth players have to rise to the occasion. For the Crew, that has not happened.

This offense simply isn’t good enough and the defense isn’t picking up the slack

The days of Columbus being one of the better offenses in MLS are gone. The league evolved beyond the time when the Black & Gold scored 50-plus goals in a season — something the team did in all but one of Gregg Berhalter’s years in charge — and the Crew have not kept up. Even at full strength, Gyasi Zardes, Federico Higuain, Pedro Santos and David Accam aren’t an attacking force that, at this point in their careers, is going to strike much fear in MLS defenses, at least not ones that play against Josef Martinz, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Carlos Vela and other elite attackers regularly.

This isn’t anything new. Columbus scored just 43 goals last year as the key offensive players not named Zardes either saw their skills diminish or didn’t live up to expectations. What allowed the Crew to still make the playoffs in 2018 was the defense, which allowed only 45 goals, the second-best total under a Berhalter-coached team. Currently, the Black & Gold are on pace to give up 50 goals, which with an offensive like this, will not likely result in another postseason appearance. Given the injuries at the back and Steffen’s departure, it’s hard to see this unit turning things around unless something changes.

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