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What we learned: Crew vs. Minnesota United

Our biggest takeaways from the Black & Gold’s ninth win of 2020.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC’s 2-1 win against Minnesota United on Wednesday was an interesting match. Yes, the Black & Gold earned the team’s MLS-best ninth victory of the year and remained atop the Supporters’ Shield standings but it wasn’t an altogether convincing performance from front to back, as an under-manned Minnesota had chances and came very close to equalizing late, if not for a tight offside call.

But the Crew did enough to maintain its perfect home record and send the 1,400-plus fans in attendance at MAPFRE Stadium home happy. After reviewing the tape, Massive Report gives you some of our takeaways from the match.

The offense can carry the attack

There have been many games in 2020 where the defense has won the game for Columbus. Heading into the encounter with United, the Black & Gold had conceded just four goals all year, making it hard to lose games. But at times during this strange season, the offense has gone through lulls where it doesn’t seem to be carrying its weight. On Wednesday it was the opposite.

While this isn’t to say the Crew defense played poorly, Minnesota did create enough chances that a tie was a fair result. Fortunately, Columbus’ offense came to play with the return of Lucas Zelarayan and a four-pronged attack that was what Caleb Porter envisioned heading into the year. With Zelarayan pulling the string in the middle of the field, Luis Diaz was able to stretch the defense on the right — drawing a penalty kick on one of his runs in behind — while Santos was able to create while tucking in and playing wide on the left. As usual, Gyasi Zardes occupied a defender or two up top, creating space for others to run into (see the Crew’s first goal).

Columbus controlled the first half, opening Minnesota up in a way the team was unable to do in the first meeting at the MLS is Back Tournament. On another day, the Black & Gold would have been up two goals at halftime and maybe a couple more before the Loons scored in the closing moments of the match. That attacking control takes the pressure off the defense to perform at such a high level game in and game out.

The depth is getting ridiculous

There aren’t many teams in MLS that can drop to their fourth option in central midfield and still feel good about the player on the feel. One team that can is the Crew. With Darlington Nagbe out, Artur and Fatai Alashe started the game as a pairing yet again, but Alashe went down with an early injury and was replaced after just 19 minutes. In stepped Homegrown rookie Sebastian Berhalter, and he put in a solid performance.

In the seventh game of his professional career, Berhalter made good decisions, connecting on 90.5 percent of his 42 passes but wasn’t afraid to try and break lines and play riskier balls at times, connecting on all three of his long ball attempts. Berhalter also attempted two shots, showing he’s not afraid to give it a go when he sees an opportunity.

With Nagbe out for another week or so, Berhalter will almost certainly be called upon to play more for the Black & Gold and may have to step back into the starting lineup, a place he hasn’t been since late August.

Artur is “a machine”

Lost in the talk about Nagbe this year, the trade for Alashe, the play of Berhalter and any other conversation about the Crew is how well Artur is playing in central midfield. When the Brazilian first came to Columbus in 2017, he looked like a player that may spend a few years in MLS before a European team came and swept him up. The last couple of seasons haven’t lived up to the first but Artur has refound his form this season.

We’ll let Porter give his reaction to Artur’s performance against Minnesota:

“I’ll tell you what, Artur I thought was quietly man of the match in a lot of ways. He was a machine today and really got around the park. And I think he did the work for two guys because without Darlington, we’re always going to miss him, his range, and so Artur’s having to do even more and I thought he was incredible today.”

That’s high praise for a player that was on the ball more than anyone else and completed nearly 90 percent of his team-high 77 passes. Artur won’t often show up on the stat sheet, but the Crew would be in a world of hurt without him.