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What We Learned: Crew vs. Chicago Fire

We give our biggest takeaways from the Crew’s comeback draw against the Fire

Columbus Crew SC v Chicago Fire Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

For the first time this season, Columbus Crew SC faced major adversity and showed resiliency. The Black & Gold came back from a 2-0 halftime deficit with two second-half goals to earn a point against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. The first 20 minutes were not pretty for Columbus’ defense but the team made up for it by grabbing the point on the road.

We learned quite a bit of new information about this team since this was a situation the Crew hadn’t faced all season, being down by two goals. Here is what we learned:

Gyasi Zardes is clutch

Zardes is on a mission this season and his desire in front of goal is one of the big reasons the Crew came away with a point against Chicago. It was Zardes who decided to “switch up,” his words, his run to go near post on Pedro Santos’ second half corner. The forward got to the cross and his header flicked off of Fatai Alashe to get the first goal.

It was also Zardes who found himself in front with a good late opportunity and came up big to finish past Bobby Shuttleworth and clinch the draw. This game is not an isolated incident for the current Golden Boot contender as he has come up big in multiple situations for the Black & Gold this season.

The penalty to clinch a point against the Seattle Sounders in a game that felt like it was six years ago. Firing in the first goal in Orlando against the New York Red Bulls to set the momentum for a big win. Picking up the scraps at MAPFRE Stadium to get the second and third goals in the Hell is Real win. And now this against Chicago. These are all examples of Zardes coming up big for the Black & Gold.

Zardes is one of the hottest strikers in MLS and his instinct to finish has been instrumental to this team.

Nagbe and Zelarayan were missed

As the first half ended, things looked dire for the Crew without two of their new signings in Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan. With both players out with “minor knee knocks” and a flat first-half performance, it looked like having both guys out was almost detrimental to the team.

Without Nagbe, the Crew misses that control in midfield to create space to open passing lanes. Without Zelarayan the Black & Gold is without that edge going forward centrally and the ability to shoot accurately from distance. The second half did prove that missing both guys is not dire because Columbus showed fight to come back and draw the game

The good news is neither Nagbe nor Zelarayan have “soft tissue” injuries so they should be good to go pretty soon. Columbus can eke out results without the two but with them, and a fully healthy squad, this team might be the best in MLS.

Columbus wasn’t too good on set pieces, until the goal

Set pieces have been one of the few poor areas for the Black & Gold all season, until today. The lone set piece goal before this match was Lucas Zelarayan’s magical free kick shot against Cincinnati. Since, it has been just far post cross after far post cross on free kicks and corners.

Against the Fire it started out as more of the same. Lots of free kicks and corners where Santos sent it far post with Josh Williams or Jonathan Mensah trying to win a header to aim back across goal. Nothing worked until Santos sent a great ball to Fatai Alashe who sprinted to the near post. He missed the header but had an open connection.

Santos was able to send one far post that somehow found Jonathan Mensah in the second half but the header was straight to Shuttleworth. And then the near post run from Zardes to score the first goal. Twelve corner kicks in the game and three yielded good chances.

In games where the Crew is down, taking advantage of set pieces is a great way to get back into it. Columbus managed to capitalize on one corner and that allowed the team to have a chance of getting a point.

Columbus can come from behind if they need to

The Crew hasn’t had too many tests in 2020. Of the team’s 11 regular season games, three have been against teams in the top five of the Supporters’ Shield standings. Against the Fire, many expected another victory similar to what we saw in Columbus when the Crew won 3-0 three weeks ago.

Instead, Chicago took advantage of a defense that wasn’t into the game at the beginning and credit to the Fire, who has some great attacking players and took a 2-0 lead. Columbus started passing direct and looked to create chances.

Eventually, the Crew scored two goals with a near-post run on a corner and from a one-in-a-million bounce that gave Zardes a training ground shot. This draw showed character and the desire to get back in the game. Caleb Porter said, “this is a team that does not accept losing.” And even without two of the Black & Gold’s key players, the Crew came out, didn’t quit and got a point before playing some new teams in the next two weeks.

Today showed that Columbus is a team that “can come from behind if we need to,” as Porter said.