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Game Grades: Crew vs. Monterrey - Leg 1

We take a look at how the Black & Gold performed against Monterrey.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In only the fourth match of the young 2021 season, the Columbus Crew played host to Liga MX powerhouse CF Monterrey in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League at historic Crew Stadium on Wednesday night. The match ended 2-2, with Monterrey carrying the road goal advantage to Mexico next week.

The Black & Gold played fairly well, despite giving up an early goal to Ake Loba within the first 10 minutes. However, Columbus was able to crawl back with two goals in the second half. Although the Crew gave up the game-tying goal in the last 15 seconds of the match.

Let’s take a look at how each player fared in the draw.

Starters

Eloy Room (5.7) - The Black & Gold goalkeeper had to come up big after multiple mistakes by the defense left him stranded. Room could have done better coming off his line, specifically on the stoppage time equalizer. He’s going to need to be a brick wall when it comes to the second leg in Mexico next week.

Harrison Afful (6.9) - Afful had a decent showing, but nothing to write home about in the first half. However, he picked up the pace in the second half when he assisted on the go-ahead goal by Zelarayan. The connection between Afful and Zelarayan has been strong and will only get stronger.

Josh Williams (6.6) - The Copley, Ohio native held his own against a strong Monterrey attack. Unfortunately, he left his man unmarked man at the tail end of the game in which Rayados scored. Aside from that, Williams had a good game and he should be expected to be on top of his game in the return leg.

Aboubacar Keita (6.3) - The young center back had some big shoes to fill in the absence of captain Jonathan Mensah. On the biggest stage of his young career, the nerves may have gotten the best of Keita early when he seemed a little lost against Monterrey’s attack. A couple of missed-placed passes and leaving Jose Alvarado unmarked along with Williams didn’t help his night, which got better as the game went on.

Milton Valenzuela (7.0) - The Argentine fullback played a great game. The defending of the young left back was critical and he was in the right spot at the right time for his goal, a one-time shot that deflected off of a defender and into the back of the net to tie the match 1-1. Valenzuela also impressed with his clearances and ability to control the pace on his side and helped push Columbus into an attack.

Artur (6.9) - Brazilian midfielder Artur had a solid showing in the first leg. What was really impressive was the control he had of the ball and getting into good spaces to find attacking players. The pairing with Nagbe in the midfield really controls how the ball is played in the center of the pitch. Artur should have scored in the second half had he headed the ball instead of trapping it with his chest and bringing it down.

Darlington Nagbe (7.0) - When Nagbe is on the pitch, the Crew is a whole different team. He helps control how the game is played, not only with good precise passing, but good vision as well. Nagbe, along with Artur, helped Columbus manage possession in the midfield in the second half when Monterrey was content being up 1-0.

Luiz Diaz (5.7) - It wasn't the best night for Diaz. He simply could not find his groove and could not capitalize on chances. His only good moment was a true shot from the right side of the 18-yard box that just went right in front of the post and out for a goal kick. Other than the skyrocketed shot attempt in the second half, Diaz had no other good opportunities.

Lucas Zelarayan (8.5) - No stranger to Monterrey, Zelarayan delivered on a big stage again. The reigning MLS Cup MVP is out for the next leg in Mexico, but put in an impressive performance in Leg 1. Able to body a Rayados defender off of the ball at the end line, Zelarayan was just able to keep the ball in play and find Valenzuela to score. He then scored a goal of his own at the penalty spot on a ball from Afful to give the Black & Gold a 2-1.

Pedro Santos (6.2) - It was a quiet night for Santos as he was unable to be a spark on his side. Although he was unable to make his presence known, Santos will surely use that for motivation when the two teams face off next.

Gyasi Zardes (6.2) - Zardes didn’t perform too well in a quiet night. The forward had a few flashes — and picked up a yellow card during a small scuffle — but nothing too fancy. The best chance by Zardes in the first half was worthy of a possible VAR review as he was wiped out by Monterrey goalkeeper Luis Cardenas after getting a touch on the ball. After that, it was just too quiet from the striker.

Substitutes

Bradley Wright-Phillips (5.6) - Being brought on by Caleb Porter in the 67th minute, Wright-Phillips was quick to give Columbus a much-needed go-ahead goal. Williams was able to head a free kick back across the goal to the forward who headed it home, but VAR ruled the arm of Williams offside and the goal was taken away.

Alexandru Matan (6.0) - Matan made an appearance during this match but wasn’t able to make himself known during the game. Still settling in, it’s unknown whether or not the 20-year old Romanian midfielder will get the start in the second leg.

Waylon Francis (6.0) - Just like Matan, Francis couldn't get time on the ball and make something happen. He did not do well on the cross that led to the equalizing goal.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (6.5) - Only using three substitutes, Porter was confident in his side and applauded the team's performance after questionable officiating in the match. But Porter does not hold back his thoughts and stands up for his guys better than probably any other coach Crew has had in its past.