The Columbus Crew’s 31st Major League Soccer game of 2021 didn’t go as planned. With head coach Caleb Porter still out after testing positive for COVID-19, the Black & Gold dropped a 2-1 result at home to the New York Red Bulls.
The defeat at Lower.com Field was the first for the Crew since Aug. 21 when Columbus fell to the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in a rematch of the 2020 MLS Cup Final. This loss greatly decreases the Crew’s MLS Cup playoff chances with three games to go in the regular season. The game showed a glimpse into the future of the Black & Gold, coupled with a display in the second half that left a lot to be desired.
Here are our major takeaways from the Crew’s defeat to the Red Bulls.
Miguel Berry has a bright future
This is no secret to anyone who has watched the Crew this season. Star striker Gyasi Zardes’ recent injury, which is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the regular season, leaves the door open for Berry to add some more minutes into his first impactful season. In his first MLS start since Sept. 18, Berry played his first full 90 minutes of his career and added his sixth goal of the year.
The goal from Berry was something that will make Zardes proud. Opening himself up to a near-post run and finishing with composure to equalize for Columbus. The 24 year old from Barcelona has only played 573 minutes this season but has amassed six goals. Doing the math, this means Berry averages 0.94 goals for every 90 minutes, putting him among the most efficient goal scorers in MLS.
In 2020, the Crew signed Fanendo Adi to be the backup striker. That did not pan out. In 2021, Bradley Wright-Phillips was added but he has only scored two goals in all competitions this season. Berry was available to play in both seasons and in 2021, he has proven to be the second-best striker in Columbus.
The more he learns, the better he will get.
Steven Moreira is the Crew’s best right back
This season has been full of new signings and it's been tough to pinpoint which has been the best one. The last addition the Crew made before the transfer deadline was adding French right back Steven Moreira, who has proven to be the best new addition to the squad and the best right back on the team.
Moreira came to Columbus from France with multiple years of experience at Ligue 1 under his belt. The 27 year old was seen more as a long-term addition and wasn’t expected to factor into the 2021 season all too much. Instead, Moreira has become the first-choice right back over the past month with four consecutive starts during a stretch where you would expect rotation.
The Frenchman had perhaps his strongest performance on Saturday with his first assist in a Crew uniform to go along with a healthy mixture of strong defending and joining in the attack. His versatility is that of Harrison Afful with very good dribbling skills, concentrated defending in the back and an excellent ability to find an open player with his crosses from the right. That Crew right back spot belongs to Moreira.
Columbus needs a miracle to make the playoffs
Statistics site FiveThirtyEight uses analytics and advanced metrics to quantify a team’s chances to make the MLS Cup playoffs. Currently, the Crew’s odds to make the postseason is at two percent. The Black & Gold sit in 11th place as the lowest team in the East standings yet to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
The second half on Saturday was a display of tired legs, as you could see when the defense concede the Red Bulls' late winner. Ties are no longer good enough for Columbus with three matches remaining before this season ends in disappointing fashion. To make the MLS Cup playoffs, the 2020 champions need a miracle.
The Crew will play for its playoff lives on Wednesday night against Orlando City SC with a win certainly prolonging a seemingly inevitable end to the Black & Gold’s 2021 season. Should the Crew be six points or more behind the seventh place team in the Eastern Conference by Thursday morning, the season will officially be over.
If Columbus pulls off this great escape and plays in the playoffs, it would be among the greatest late-season pushes in MLS history.