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What we learned: Crew vs. D.C. United

Our major takeaways from the Black & Gold’s first three points of 2021.

SOCCER: MAY 08 MLS - DC United at Columbus Crew SC Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time in 2021, the Columbus Crew walked off the field with a full three points. The Black & Gold defeated D.C. United 3-1 on Saturday afternoon, the team’s first win in Major League Soccer play after opening the season with back-to-back draws. The game also marked the first goals scored and conceded by Columbus after two 0-0 results to open the campaign.

It was a solid performance from the Crew, who took advantage of a depleted United team by controlling the game throughout. It was also a needed confidence boost for a team early in the season after being knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League with a disappointing 3-0 loss just three days prior.

It will be a busy next week for Columbus but before we look at what’s coming, let’s take a look at what we learned from this game.

Own goals count too

The Crew scored the team’s first three goals of the 2021 MLS season on Saturday, but only one came off a Black & Gold player’s boot. Lucas Zelarayan curled home a free kick in the 20th minute before Columbus benefitted from two own goals in the second half that secured the win.

While an own goal doesn’t feel as good as seeing your team put the ball in the back of the net without help from the opposition, those goals count the same. And in the Crew’s case, these goals were deserved.

The first goal played out after a nice moment of transition, going from goalkeeper Eloy Room to the back of the net in four passes. Winger Luis Diaz’s switch of play to find Pedro Santos on the left side was the highlight of the play as it showcased how Columbus doesn’t always have to use slow build-up to get a chance on goal. Santos’ shot was hard and on frame, forcing a save from goalkeeper Chris Seitz. The rebound from the save came off Frédéric Brillant and into the net.

If Brillant isn’t there to accidentally put the ball into the goal, forward Gyasi Zardes likely has a tap-in finish. This makes Black & Gold fans feel better about this own goal.

The second own goal, which came just one minute after D.C.’s Ola Kamara halved his team’s deficit, is less likely to find the net if not for the defender, but still came from the Crew putting the ball into a dangerous spot. After winning the ball off of a United defender, Santos performed a nice move to create space and serveed in a dangerous ball. Again, Zardes was in a good spot to score and again, Brillant got in the way. This time, however, the ball rolled in front of the open goal and Tony Alfaro, trying to clear it, put the ball over the line.

It’s possible here that, if the ball gets to Zardes, he finishes. It’s also possible that once Brillant flicks the ball beyond the Columbus forward, winger Derrick Etienne gets to it and finishes if Alfaro doesn’t try to clear.

Either way, this was a Black & Gold team in need of goals and they found a way to get them on Saturday. And while it would be nice to see Crew players’ names on the score sheet, the fact that chances like these are coming is a good sign.

The difference between Wright-Phillips and Zardes

Columbus has two talented forwards on the roster. Zardes has been the team’s top scorer in each of the three seasons he’s been with the club and veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips is one of the best finishers in MLS history. But while both can and will score for the Crew, they each bring different things to the striker position.

This was evident in this game. Wright-Phillips got the start and played the first 57 minutes before coming off for Zardes. During his time on the field, the 36-year-old Wright-Phillips wasn’t as mobile as Zardes typically is but linked up well with Zelarayan and other attackers. This combination play is similar to Wright-Phillips’ first goal with the Black & Gold against Real Esteli in mid-April.

When Zardes came into the game, he was all over the field for the remainder of the contest. Zardes often dropped deeper to get the ball and helped back defensively. While both players make good runs, Zardes typically darts either to the near or far post, while Wright-Phillips sometimes pulls off depending on where other players are on the field.

Both forwards do good things and that’s why they’ve had success, but they do it in different ways. This gives head coach Caleb Porter different options to pick from the strikers and keep defenses guessing.

Waylon Francis still has it

It’s been a tough second stint for the Crew for the Costa Rican left back. After playing 17 games and making 16 starts in his return in 2019 while Milton Valenzuela was out, Francis has played just six total games the last two seasons. The defender has battled various injuries and struggled to find form, but seems to be getting into a rhythm now.

Francis has already started two of the three games Columbus has played in MLS in 2021 and after the 3-1 win against United, Porter called the left back his man of the match as he helped to shut down D.C. wingback Julian Gressel. It is clear that being healthy and getting regular reps is helping Francis find the form that saw him named an MLS All-Star in 2015.

And while Francis will likely be a backup once Valenzuela returns from a hamstring injury, the Crew now have a solid two-deep at the position. At the very least, a healthy Francis will push Valenzuela to be better as the season progresses.