The Columbus Crew’s MLS Cup playoff hopes are still alive after a 1-1 draw in Tennessee against Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium on Wednesday night. The task at hand was a difficult one for the Black & Gold, facing a Nashville side that hadn’t lost at home all season while missing head coach Caleb Porter from the sidelines.
Columbus completed part of the task by not losing the game but overall, the team was slightly disappointed to let a second half lead slip so quickly after scoring the opening goal.
Here are some takeaways from the draw in the Music City.
The offense is playing aggressive
The Crew offense has had multiple games of lethargic build-up in the attack that led to few shots on target. That offense is long gone for the Black & Gold with another aggressive display in the attack throughout Wednesday night’s match in Nashville. Columbus had 11 total shots in the game but, more importantly, six on target.
While six shots on target doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s the fact the Black & Gold had more than 50 percent of its shots at Joe Willis’ goal. The first half was full of attempts from distance that Willis was forced to save that could have been poked in if Crew attackers were following up on the shots, something Ezra Hendrickson stressed after the half.
The goal Columbus scored was another great example of offensive aggressiveness with forward Miguel Berry running towards defenders and staying patient to let winger Pedro Santos and playmaker Lucas Zelarayan catch up to him. The quick, vertical passing led to the goal in a refreshing offensive display. The Crew was held scoreless in seven of the first 14 games the team played. The Black & Gold have now scored at least once in five of its last six games.
Defensive lapses are minimal to nonexistent
While the offense has improved its chance creation and conversion, the defense has also improved on its mental lapses. Throughout the Crew’s losing streak, the team’s defense was prone to giving away easy goals with a particular frequency to back passes straight to opposition forwards. Those issues are essentially gone and have been for quite some time.
Nashville might be known for the team’s strong defense but its underrated attacking production has truly made the group one of the best teams in MLS. The strong frontline was going to be a challenge for the Crew backline and this group rose to the occasion. Nashville wasn’t overly threatening in the attack for much of the game and the Black & Gold defense silenced them for much of the contest.
The one moment that the defense will want back is the goal conceded. The most important five minutes in a soccer game are the five minutes after a team scores a goal. Hendrickson mentioned after the match the celebration following Zelarayan’s goal went long and that could have drifted the team’s focus slightly, thus leading to the quick equalizer.
Draws aren’t good enough from here on out
Of all the 30 Crew results this season, this one had the most mixed reaction from the fan base. On the one hand, Columbus earned a point against the only team in MLS that’s unbeaten at home. On the other hand, the Black & Gold dropped two points with a lead and make the MLS Cup playoff chase more difficult. Each mindset on the result has its merits.
Before these last five games started, Porter said the Crew has to win all of its home games. He didn’t specifically mention the last two road matches being must-wins. Columbus has earned an important four points in its last two games and gained three points on seventh place.
Thanks to the help of some other results on Wednesday, the Crew can be within one point of playoff positioning with a win on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls and help from other clubs. From here on out, it's three home games and one road trip to D.C. United. A draw at Audi Field won’t be good enough in all likelihood but one in Nashville was good enough to keep the belief. Any loss and the defending MLS Cup champions likely won’t be playing in the postseason this year.