The Columbus Crew’s struggles continued as the team fell to the Montreal Impact 2-1 in a home game sandwiched between two road matches. The Crew was able to come back from a goal deficit through a Gyasi Zardes finish but was unable to come back from a second half Bojan penalty.
Columbus nearly gifted the visitors an early goal with a third minute giveaway. Jonathan Mensah made a square pass back to Artur just outside the 18-yard box. The pass was in front of the Brazilian midfielder and slipped to the Impact’s Bojan. He played a quick pass to Amar Sejdic who’s shot pinged off the left post.
The Impact created another open chance when Montreal beat the Crew’s offensive line in the 10th minute. Jorge Corrales found Lassi Lappalainen with a direct ball that led him into the final third. Aidan Morris recognized the danger immediately and tracked back. With three Montreal players in the penalty box, the rookie made a vital toe-poke tackle to end the threat.
Columbus struggled offensively early in the half. Without Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe, the Crew attack registered its first shot in the 21st minute. After interplay between Luis Diaz and Harrison Afful, Diaz slipped the ball to Santos. The Portuguese winger’s cross was chested down by Zardes and he clipped a shot that was saved easily.
The Impact finally took advantage of its next chance. Bojan broke past Jonathan as the pass was played and crushed a shot that rang the crossbar. The rebound fell to Lappalainen whose shot was blocked by Afful. He put home the rebound to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. There was a brief moment of confusion as referee Victor Rivas quickly blew the whistle. The goal stood and he awarded a card to Afful for handball in the 18-yard box. Rivas essentially played advantage for the Impact goal.
Columbus’ attack woke up after conceding with Santos creating the chance on an excellent free kick service from the right wing in the 30th minute. The winger bent a curling ball to the back post that Jonathan had a clear header on. The center back sent the ball across the goal from inside the six-yard box.
The Black & Gold broke through just before halftime. The Black & Gold pushed the ball right after cycling possession. Santos dribbled across the top of the penalty area and slipped the ball to Milton Valenzuela as he surged forward from left back. Valenzuela one-timed a left-footed pass low across goal. The ball was clipped up by Luis Binks stab and caromed off Zardes’ face and into the net to make it 1-1.
A near second goal came for the Crew just at halftime through Santos again. The impromptu playmaker received the ball in the penalty pox and showed patience holding until a runner slipped though. He put in a perfectly-weighted ball to Artur, who popped a left-footed shot right at Clément Diop, who punched it out for a corner.
The home side started the second half with the momentum the team ended with in the first. The Black & Gold continued to have the possession advantage but the passes were crisper and the attack more consistently dangerous.
Youness Mokhtar, Morris and Santos had looks from distance in the 15-minute span after the opening of the half, but none truly challenged Diop. Mokhtar had a free kick attempt in the 62nd minuted that forced Diop to once again parry the ball away. The Impact cleared the rebound and suppressed the immediate danger.
The Impact retok the lead after Bojan was fouled by Hector Jimenez in the penalty box. Jimenez had just entered the game for an injured Valenzuela. The call during the run of play was no penalty, but it was given on Video Assistant Review. Bojan took his own penalty and convert in the 74th minute, just past the outstretched hand of Tarbell.
Columbus piled on the pressure after going behind, camping out in the Impact half. The visitors packed numbers behind the ball. The Crew struggled to break down the valiant rearguard action. Santos had the best chance in the 80th minute with a rip from distance that forced a full-stretch save from Diop.
In the end, there was not enough there for the Black & Gold, who lost at home for the first time in 2020.
The Crew now has a three-game winless streak and is 0-2-1 with a -3 goal differential over that stretch. Columbus lost on the road to Toronto FC and had to come from behind to tie against FC Dallas before losing to Montreal. The team is missing the ability for Nagbe to keep the tempo at what the Crew plays best. The Black & Gold are also missing the magic that Zelarayan is able to create.
The defense that started so strong has now given up multiple goals in three straight games and hasn’t had a shutout since Sept. 19 against Nashville SC, five games ago.
With Nagbe and Zelarayan out, the Crew was shorthanded in some key areas. Santos once again moved centrally to take up the playmaking role. Morris came in at central midfield. Both were the sparks on an uneven night for the Crew.
Santos had seven passes that led directly to Crew shots while Morris connected on 29 of his 31 pass attempts on the night. The rookie had three tackles and two interceptions to add to his passing prowess.
With the loss, the Crew falls to 9-3-4 and out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Columbus is now in third place on goal differential, tied with the Philadelphia Union on points. Things remain tight in the East with Toronto at 34 points and the Crew and Union at 31 points and Orlando on 30 points.
The Black & Gold travels to face Orlando City on Sunday evening. The start time is 7:30 p.m. ET from Exploria Stadium.