After an emotional 2-2 draw last Wednesday night against Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Columbus Crew had to travel all the way to scorching hot Florida where the team was fatigued. The second Major League Soccer match in 2021 for the Black & Gold ended 0-0 against CF Montreal with the “hosts” outshooting the Crew 20-3 in another poor offensive showing.
Here is what we learned in a rather lethargic and unexciting scoreless draw in Fort Lauderdale.
Defensive depth is strong
The Crew’s depth has been tested early with a congested schedule and a handful of early-season injuries. While the offense hasn’t clicked at the level expected, the defensive performances have carried over from last year immediately in league play with another new combination of defenders.
Vito Wormgoor made his anticipated return after nearly a year out with a broken ankle and started at center back alongside youngster Aboubacar Keita. Captain Jonathan Mensah was out for a second consecutive game with a minor injury as well as the recent arrival of his wife, Kafui, to the United States after over a year. Josh Williams played off the bench for 30 minutes and rested, mostly as a potential starter for the Monterrey second leg on Wednesday.
Harrison Afful started again at right back but played just one half with new signing Saad Abdul-Salaam coming on. Milton Valenzuela was resting as well for Wednesday’s Monterrey clash with Crew veteran Waylon Francis getting the nod. And even with this change of personnel in the back, Columbus looked strong defensively.
Despite allowing 20 shots, Montreal only had three on target with the Columbus backline getting good passes to the midfield and staying organized. Goalkeeper Eloy Room helped to lead the line all match as he earned another clean sheet playing with Wormgoor, Abdul-Salaam, Keita, Afful, Williams and Francis. This team is elite defensively with Wormgoor back in the rotation and others can step in to put in solid performances.
Playing in the heat is difficult
Not too often have the Crew and Montreal played and one of the factors in the game was extreme heat. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions between Canada and the United States, CF Montreal is playing its “home” matches in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium. The situation is easier for the players with their families with them in Florida in apartments rather than being on their own in hotels.
Playing in Florida comes with a price and when the league scheduled a 3 p.m. ET kickoff in May in Fort Lauderdale: the sun is going to be beaming down on you. The temperature got as hot as 90 degrees during the match with two necessary water breaks being taken in the 30th and 75th minute. Conserving energy is important in the heat and you could see the Crew and Montreal players rarely sprinted and played very, very slowly.
From a Black & Gold perspective, the heat made things harder for a team that just had an emotional and controversial game on Wednesday where the players gave all they had and looked tired. Head coach Caleb Porter highlighted that the energy wasn’t there and in the postgame press conference, he let the media know he was drenched in sweat. The team’s next trip to Florida is on May 12 when they play Toronto FC in Orlando. Luckily that match kicks off at 7 p.m. ET.
Offensive chemistry will take time
The only good offensive performances we have seen from the Black & Gold thus far have been in the Champion League. The four goals scored in Nicaragua against Real Esteli was a feat any USL team would be capable of and then the impressive offensive showing the Crew had against Monterrey, sparked by the drive of Lucas Zelarayan, on Wednesday was good to see. The other three matches in 2021 have seen Columbus score just once and that is okay this early.
Building offensive chemistry has its challenges with players needing to adapt to run timing and learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the system. As expected, Columbus had a new front four out against Montreal with Bradley Wright-Phillips leading the line ahead of Pedro Santos, Zelarayan and Derrick Etienne Jr. While the wingers have played together, they haven’t had any consistent game time with Wright-Phillips and you could see the disconnect.
The best build-up in the game came late when Alexandru Matan came off the bench. He saw space in the middle and sprinted towards the penalty box where he sent a through ball to Wright-Phillips. The forward was offside as Matan’s pass was just a second too late. That kind of offensive cohesion will take time on the training ground to execute properly, especially when Columbus is playing a different front four combo every game. The goals will come as the team gets acclimated and has time to really focus on training when they aren’t playing a game every three days.