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What We Learned: Crew vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Our biggest takeaways from a fourth-straight result.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC earned a point on the road in the 1-1 tie against the San Jose Earthquakes. A Gyasi Zardes goal in the 65th minute, after a first half penalty kicked, extended the Black & Gold’s unbeaten streak to four games. The Crew withstood several quality goal-scoring opportunities by the Earthquakes in the first 20 minutes of the match as well as in the final minutes when MLS veteran Chris Wondolowski was in position to deliver a dramatic goal late that did not materialize.

There were a few things we took away from this game.

The offensive sparks are beginning to develop

Midfielder Luis Argudo and U.S. Men’s National Team forward Gyasi Zardes have, in the past few games, established a nice chemistry in the final third. Argudo nearly got his second goal in as many games after being set up by Zardes in the 26th minute against the Earthquakes, but his shot went wide. And while Pedro Santos rightly earned the headlines from the 3-2 win against the New York Red Bulls with his two goals last weekend — including the game-winner — it’s been Argudo who has the necessary spark plug for Columbus during the past few games and Zardes who has been finding his form again. Recall the deftly-placed header by Zardes versus the Red Bulls to a charging Argudo who proceeded to score with a great shot on the run.

Winger Luis Diaz started his first match in a Crew uniform in the 1-1 draw, and he did not disappoint. Since joining the Black & Gold, he has two assists, both resulting in an equalizing goal. The quality and style of play Diaz brings to the Crew is something no other player on the roster has. His speed, dribbling and ability to serve balls on target is something Columbus didn’t have before his arrival. He has a keen eye for placement and airtime when servicing from the wing.

Increased combination plays between Zardes and Argudo, particularly on counter-attacks in the coming weeks, as well as the service from Diaz will continue to pay offensive dividends for the Black & Gold.

The Crew’s defense still needs leadership

Understanding the impact of the injuries involving the Crew’s starting central defenders, the backline has still conceded way too many easy goals this season because of poor marking and positioning. Harrison Afful’s arm hitting the ball in the box led to a 41st minute penalty kick goal for San Jose. But there were too many situations before that moment (and after) when the Earthquakes pressed for goal in which the Crew’s defense wasn’t positioned correctly. Columbus was fortunate the game didn’t get out of reach early on in Avaya Stadium.

This is not just from this game, as the Black & Gold have conceded six goals in the last four games. Fortunately, the team has found its offense of late.

The Crew needs a singular, reliable voice in the central defense to guide the other defenders regarding tactical positioning, as well as when and where to shift, and to keep the backline sharp and focused in all game scenarios.

Stats do lie

San Jose made 230 more passes than the Crew and the Crew had just 37% possession. That sounds crazy low but also seems right after watching last night’s game. Where was the sustained build-up play? Columbus has the players to move the ball (and the opponent) around. However, that wasn’t a priority in last night’s game.

The Earthquakes are one of the best possession and passing teams in Major League Soccer and that was evident in this game. The Quakes 62 percent of the ball and controlled much of the contest. There was a glimmer of hope between the 55th minute and 65th minute where the Black & Gold held the ball, but after the Zardes goal, it went back downhill.

Columbus’ spine consisting of Wil Trapp, Santos and Zardes provides solid resources for possession and ball movement at each level of the field to spread the ball to eventually create open lanes against the opponent. Hovering around 37 percent possession won’t help matters much when earning as many points as possible points remains at a premium in every game for a team looking to make a late push for the playoffs that’s currently sitting in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.

Fortunately, the Crew won’t play the Earthquakes every week. In fact, Columbus now directs its attention to a must-win game against league newcomer and Hell Is Real rival, FC Cincinnati, a team that doesn’t possess, or do much of anything, well.