The Columbus Crew took a point home from their matchup with Nashville SC after second half goals from both teams in a gritty defensive matchup. Lead by assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, after Caleb Porter was ruled out due to MLS Health and Safety protocols, the Black & Gold struggled to find offense on a night heavy with playoff implications.
Nashville saw most of the ball in the opening minutes, but struggled to turn time on the ball into chances. The Crew struggled on the fast playing turf to break out of the defensive end, often turning over the ball over and giving possession back to the home side.
The best chance early in the game came off a Nashville set piece. Walker Zimmerman powered a fierce free header off a corner kick forcing a reaction save from Eloy Room to parry the ball over the bar in the 13th minute.
Nashville found the seams in the Crew defense in the 18th minute. Hany Mukhtar slipped into the left channel, he cut the ball back centrally to Anibal Godoy. He drove a low one time shot, but Jonathan Mensah blocked an attempt that would have tested Room again.
The initial Crew chance of the half came in the 25th minute as Columbus had a rare spell of possession and a free kick. After Nashville cleared the the initial service, Mensah put a header on target, but it was easily saved by Joe Willis.
The game opened up as the Nashville defense weakened in the mid third and Columbus moved the ball forward with more ease than they had all game.
An individual effort from Lucas Zelarayan created the next chance of the game in the 36th minute. He took the ball into the final third, slipped past a shirt pull from Dax McCarty and unleashed a darting shot from 25 yards that forced Willis to parry the ball. The Crew couldn't capitalize on the resulting corner kick before Nashville recovered and cleared the threat.
The Crew continued to push forward through the stretched Nashville midfield. Pedro Santos tested Willis from 25 yards and forced a parrying save from Willis to keep the game scoreless into halftime.
The home side found their footing after the break and pinned the Crew back. Nashville failed to test Room’s goal in the opening 10 minutes of the second half despite the possession.
The game fell into a lull where neither team possessed with any incisiveness. Nashville’s offense fell silent, going 30 minutes between shots. The Crew struggled to create quality chances in the 25 minutes after the break. The game looked much like prior Columbus v. Nashville battles, a grueling defensive struggle.
Columbus unlocked the Nashville defense in the 75th minute after a long clearing outlet pass found Miguel Berry in space. Berry dribbled to the top of the Nashville penalty area and slipped a pass to Santos. Zelarayan peeled right and took a pass wide. He slotted a shot across goal and beat Willis to put the Crew within reach of all three points.
The lead lasted less than two minutes as the home side equalized with a direct play of thier own. CJ Sapong tracked down a long entry pass and found Daniel Rios with a back heel. The clipped cross from Rios found Mukhtar, who slid a shot past Mensah and Room to tie the game.
Neither side really tested goal in the final 10 minutes of the game. Nashville attempted to grab all three points, bringing on midfielders Brian Anunga and Luke Haakenson in the 84th minute. The Crew countered with Milton Valenzuela and Vito Wormgoor as the game headed towards the 90th minute, appearing content with the tie.
Injury Worries: Part 2851
The Crew have been bitten hard by the injury bug this season. Four key players remain on the long term injury list, including Artur and key offseason signing Kevin Molino. Six different starters were felled with long term injuries. Even Porter was forced to miss tonight’s game due to MLS Health and Safety protocols.
Another name likely goes on the the list after tonight’s game after Zardes was forced to leave at halftime. The striker missed three games in August and September due to a hamstring strain. Tonight was clipped by Zimmerman while taking a shot in the 39th minute. Initially he tried to shake off the injury, but never looked comfortable after coming back on to close out the half. Berry replaced him at halftime.
Detour on the Road to the Playoffs
The Crew are 0-6-2 in their last eight road games; the last road win was July 24th in Atlanta. During the poor run of form, the Crew have dropped from fourth in the Eastern Conference standings to 10th. Needing points, the Crew were within 20 minutes of a vital win, but they let a lead slip. With the game tied, impromptu head coach Hendrickson looked to the bench and tapped defenders Wormgoor and Valenzuela instead of Bradley Wright-Phillips or Alex Matan.
If the Crew make the playoffs, they are coming in as one of the lowest seeds. They would have have to win on the road to defend their MLS Cup. That would take a drastic change in form.
The tie takes the Crew to 10-12-8 on the year. They have 38 points and are three points out of the last spot currently held by D.C. United. They return to action on Saturday night as fellow playoff contenders New York Red Bulls come to Lower.com Field for a 6:00 pm game.