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What We Learned: Crew vs. Austin FC

Another road draw taught us more about the Crew 10 games into the MLS season.

SOCCER: JUN 27 MLS - Columbus Crew SC at Austin FC Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 10th MLS game for the Columbus Crew was an exciting 0-0 draw at Austin FC. Despite the scoreline, the teams combined for more than 30 shots and played with energy in a raucous environment at Q2 Stadium. Through the first 10 games of 2021, the defending MLS Cup champions grabbed 15 points but have been held scoreless in five of its six road games.

While the draw might not look the best on paper, the Crew was pleased with its performance and picking up another point on the road. This match in Texas’ capital gave us some new takeaways and confirmed some early-season patterns.

Here is what we learned from the Crew’s 0-0 draw at Austin.

Crew’s xG stat is bad

Now is a proper time to introduce those who might not know to xG (expected goals) because it’s the perfect stat to describe the lack of offensive production from the Black & Gold this season. Soccer is shifting into using more advanced analytics like baseball and basketball and xG is the most used statistic in the sport.

American Soccer Analysis defines xG (expected goals) as “the number of goals that can be expected to be scored based on where and how a shot was taken.” This number quantifies all created chances based on where the shot is, if the player is using his strong or weak foot and gives a percentage of the likelihood that shot would go in.

In MLS, the Crew is dead-last in xG by a considerable margin with an expected goals of 7.43. This does not including two of the team’s finishes — the two own goals D.C. United scored for Columbus in the 3-1 win in May. The Black & Gold is lacking consistent shot conversion and offensive creativity that leads to high-rate shot chances.

On Sunday, Gyasi Zardes had an open left-footed chance in the 74th minute that had an xG of over 1, which quantifies as the highest percentage chance in the match. Zardes missed that chance and head coach Caleb Porter pointed out that specific shot is “the one we have to score.”

If this team is to have similar success to a year ago, the Crew has to get better offensively by getting in better positions more frequently and finishing opportunities when they are there.

Columbus doesn’t need spectacular showings to get points

While the Crew has the worst xG in the league and has scored just nine goals in 10 matches, the team is performing above its statistical expected point total. Columbus has the second-lowest expected points total in MLS with 9.89 (a full point ahead of last-place Cincinnati) but the Black & Gold have 15 points on the season.

Porter pointed out after the match on Sunday that the Crew has had one of the better starts in MLS for a defending champion with every team in the league putting its best foot forward against Columbus each match. Even with the target on their backs and the lack of offensive production, the Black & Gold have lost just three matches and are unbeaten at home.

This is a testament to the team's talented depth and ability to grind for results no matter who is on the pitch. With match congestion, fatigue and injuries, lineups have been different nearly every match, but the defense always holds its ground to help the team earn points. The second portion of the season is approaching and the Crew hasn’t played its best game yet while sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Kevin Molino will need to adapt to the Crew’s system

Austin FC played with great intensity on the counter attack with the right side of the pitch utilized throughout the first half. Austin winger Jared Stroud had plenty of space to operate and create chances due to the lack of defensive work rate from winger Kevin Molino. The new Crew signing got his second start for the Black & Gold and the first half showed his need to adapt the Columbus’ style of defending from the front.

Porter knows that this will be a change for Molino from what he was asked to do in the past, specifically the last few years with Minnesota Unted.

“I think that will be the biggest adjustment for him here is that side of the ball,” said Porter of Molino. “He wasn’t asked to do a ton defensively in Minnesota’s system but he was able to float in and out of games. He’s a very good attacker and yet in our system, he is going to have to play both sides of the ball enough.”

Against Austin, Molino didn’t play enough on the defensive side and if it weren’t for the lack of clinical finishing from El Tree, Austin would have walked away with three points against Columbus. Molino has plenty of time to morph his attacking ability into the Crew offense, and that will make it much better, but defending will be required from him more than ever in his MLS career.