A changed Columbus Crew side struggled in the team’s matchup with CF Montreal in the Florida heat. Unable to create much danger on offense, the Black & Gold were held to their second 0-0 draw of the 2021 Major League Soccer season.
The team formerly known as the Impact were forced to relocate for the beginning of the MLS season to Ft. Lauderdale due to travel restrictions in Canada. because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Temperatures reached 88 degrees for the mid-afternoon kickoff. The match was played without fans, further draining the atmosphere.
Montreal looked better early, continuing the team’s bright start to the early season. They tallied five shots midway through the first half, but only one was on target and none of them truly challenged goalkeeper Eloy Room.
The Crew struggled with attacking flow as several starters were rested and Caleb Porter made five changes to the starting lineup, including forward Gyasi Zardes, midfielder Artur and left back Milton Valenzuela.
Columbus’ attack came to life in the 28th minute. Winger Pedro Santos drove in an early cross to forward Bradley Wright-Phillips who took a touch and fired a close-range shot at Clément Diop. The Montreal goalkeeper parried the shot and the whistle sounded for offside, nullifying the play. The sequence left the Crew still looking for its first official shot of the game.
Montreal forced Room into action in the 34th minute as Romell Quioto slipped into the area and tried to drive a cross across the face of goal. The Curaçao goalkeeper popped the ball up and then grabbed it to snuff out the danger. Montreal kept pressing but was unable to get a shot off.
The home side continued to be far more dangerous than the Crew in the opening 45 minutes. Montreal recorded 10 shots in the first half while the Crew failed to record a single shot through halftime.
In the second half, the game slowed down as the Florida heat took its toll. Neither team created much danger with the game played mostly through the midfield. The large number of substitutions further slowed down the play as neither side was able to take advantage of the fresh legs to change the game.
The Crew finally got its first shot in the 70th minute. Wright-Phillips drew a found 25 yards out from goal. Playmaker Lucas Zelarayan took the direct kick but put it well high. Minutes later, winger Luis Diaz found space on the left side of the 18-yard box and blazed a shot well off target.
Montreal kept the ball for most of the second half and found more chances as the game got stretched. The Crew defense, now with Josh Williams in the middle in place of the fatigued Vito Woormgoor who made his first appearance since July, continued to hold firm while the offense tried to play more direct. Because of that, the defensive lines became stretched and the hosts found more seams, but still didn’t truly test Room.
The Black & Gold did put the ball in the back of the net in the 85th minute as Alexandru Matan found space in the middle of the field and slipped a pass into Wright-Phillips. The striker rounded Diop and finished in the open net but the pass was just a bit late and was just offside.
After seven minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew and the teams settled for a share of the points.
After a draining 90 minutes against Monterrey at home on Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions League and the second leg in Mexico next Wednesday, the Crew was forced to rotate the lineup to keep legs fresh. That meant that Porter made five changes to the lineup from the last game. Wormgoor made his long-awaited return from injury suffered at the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020. Isaiah Parente, Waylon Francis, Derrick Etienne and Wright-Phillips came into the starting 11.
The attempt to limit minutes extended to the substitutions. Artur and Saad Abdul-Salam came on at halftime. Artur replaced Darlington Nagbe and Abdul-Salam, in his Crew debut, replaced Harrison Afful. Nagbe and Afful played 90 minutes on Wednesday and are likely to play in Mexico midweek. Wormgoor and Parente were limited to 60 minutes.
With the Crew forced into heavy rotation, the team didn’t have the same fluidity and tempo. It showed on offense. Columbus did not record a shot in the first half as they was often put on the back foot with Montreal controlling play.
The attack didn't spring to life in the second half with the large number of substitutes trying to manage minutes and spur something on offense. They could only conjure a free kick shot from Zelarayan that was nowhere close to on frame. Diaz tallied a couple of shots, one blazing well wide, looking more like a cross, and a shot that was blocked.
The Crew travel to face Monterrey in Mexico on Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. ET for the second leg of the team’s Champions League quarterfina. The Black & Gold hosts D.C. United at historic Crew Stadium next Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. ET kickoff in the next league match.