Following its loss to New York City FC on Monday, Columbus Crew SC took the drive down Interstate 71 to face in-state rival FC Cincinnati on Saturday night. It was a big evening for the Black & Gold as Lucas Zelerayan, Eloy Room and Youness Mokhtar returned to the lineup for the first time since the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
Despite the fanfare surrounding its playmakers, Columbus struggled to find the back of the net en route to a 0-0 draw in the Hell is Real Derby.
Here are some of the takeaways from Saturday’s game:
Lack of offense
Despite many of the playmakers returning to the lineup, the Black & Gold offense looked unimaginative in its buildup. Head coach Caleb Porter trotted out his typical 4-2-3-1 formation but Columbus couldn’t make the most of its scoring opportunities in the attacking third and didn’t appear to have a “Plan B.”
Too many times a Crew attacker would have the ball on the wings and the players situated around the ball carrier would remain steadfast in their attacking positions, not checking toward the ball carrier to help or create space. This pigeonholed the player on the ball into making a poor pass, as he fed the ball into a channel with two players making identical runs. All that Cincinnati’s defense had to do was stay in place, move side-to-side, execute it slides on defense and limit Columbus from getting into any dangerous scoring areas.
While FC Cincy certainly has proven to have a good defense, the Crew was thought to have a top-level offense when all the pieces are available. The Black & Gold didn’t look it on Saturday, as Cincinnati was able to sit deep and limit what Columbus wanted to do. The Crew will have to be sharper against other opponents going forward.
Wherefore art thou Lucas?
When Crew fans saw playmaker Lucas Zelarayan return to the lineup on Saturday, there was cause for optimism. Unfortunately, it appears the Argentine No. 10 needed time to knock off some of the rust as he returns to the pitch. The 28-year-old lacked his usual flair, losing the ball, getting dispossessed and not registering a shot the entire game. This was a far cry from his performance against the Blue and Orange on July 11th in the first game of MLS is Back Tournament.
It’s been clear of late that the Black & Gold offense isn’t as good without Zelarayan’s creativity. But when he is not himself, there’s not much added to the attack. After more than a month off, it makes sense that Zelarayan wouldn’t be as sharp, but his ability to pick up the ball, run at a defense and create wasn’t there in the derby.
Room for one more
It wasn’t just field players making their return to the pitch, as Eloy Room returned for the Black & Gold as well. The 31-year-old goalkeeper missed time after he picked up a hamstring injury during the team’s trip to Orlando. Room had a great performance, turning aside several Cincinnati chances and keeping his team within striking distance throughout the 90 minutes.
While backup goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was solid for Columbus during Room’s absence, the Crew is happy to have its start back in the net.
Another chance at redemption
Columbus is back in action on Wednesday when the Philadelphia Union come to town. It’ll be another quality Eastern Conference test as the visitors come to MAPFRE Stadium on the heels of a 4-1 victory against D.C. United.
Once the Crew completes that fixture, it will be time for another meeting with its Hell is Real rivals, as the Black & Gold welcome Cincinnati back to Central Ohio. Fatigue and heavy legs look to be creeping up in some of these recent fixtures, so it’ll be up to Porter and his staff to manage minutes so that the Crew can nullify a potential September slide.