Despite a putting the goal under siege, the Columbus Crew was held scoreless and drew with Nashville SC in their first meeting of the 2021 season. The Crew is now on a five-game unbeaten streak and has lost just one game in the team’s last nine, despite the ever-changing lineup with 21 points under their belt.
Nashville came out swinging early, knocking on the door in the first minute with three set pieces in the first four minutes. One of which was a deflected free kick that Room only just sent wide at full extension.
The teams settled and possession began to even out, but it wasn’t until the 11th minute that the Crew got their first dangerous chance. A nasty foul on Santos on the left side was sent into a scuffle in the box but eventually punched away by Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis.
In the 15th minute Zelarayan found himself in a prime shooting position just barely outside the 18-yard box but was fouled before he could get the shot off. He was set up perfectly to pull off free kick magic that he has created time and time again, as recently as Saturday night, but he has to miss sometimes and this one off the wall and wide.
Though he hadn’t scored, the playmaker was making himself known on the pitch. Not only was creating space, but he was clearing some Nashville defense with some wild footwork.
Despite missing four defenders, including U.S. National Walker Zimmerman, the backline was shutting down the Crew offense and their usual channels. The Crew did not have a shot on goal until the 34th minute with a rocket from Santos.
The pace of the game significantly slowed around the half hour mark. The Crew’s only real chances the rest of the half came from Zelarayan, but the Nashville defense seemed to always get a touch on it.
Despite the Crew dominating possession in the first half with nearly 70 percent, their offensive production was barely keeping up with Nashville’s and they were being shut down too easily as the offense seemed to only flow through Zelarayan.
The start of the second half saw Bradley Wright-Phillips come on for Erik Hurtado as well as Marlon Hairston replace Perry Kitchen, who acquired a yellow card in the first half.
The second half saw more chances for the Black & Gold as they stretched the field and crossed balls in from out wide more often.
Another foul in prime-Zelarayan territory came in the 58th minute. Once again it was deflected off the Nashville wall, but the next play gave Wright-Phillips a great look and forced a save out of Willis. The ball wasn’t leaving the Crew’s attacking half and it seemed only a matter of time that the home side would break the deadlock, but Nashville was able to slow the Black & Gold attack down just enough.
Zelarayan forced Willis to make a save that deflected out toward Nagbe who ripped it from deep in the 71st minute. Willis was somehow able to drop and make the second, a highlight reel, save to keep the score even.
The Black & Gold offense showed a fluency often lacking this season throughout the second half. Nashville wilted under the pressure and their offense struggled to break past the fierce Columbus counter-press. Once they did, the Crew backline easily kept the scoreline even, snuffing out any errant chance.
The tireless Crew attack nearly broke through for a late win. In the first minute of extra time Kevin Molino picked up a great through ball in the box. His shot from 12 yards out had the pace and bend but flew just wide of a win. Santos was feeling it too and tested Willis just a minute later, but couldn’t get to the deflection after being going down in the box after contact. No penalty was called and the win was out of their reach.
Without Gyasi Zardes, Caleb Porter has tried a number of different attacking options. Tonight, new signing Erik Hurtado got his first start with the Black & Gold in his third appearance while Bradley Wright-Phillips made his second straight appearance after an injury kept him out since late May. Porter has even played Zelarayan up top when things have been really thin. While each striker has brought something unique to the lineup, they are missing that clinical finisher that they get in Zardes.
“A tale of two halves”
Coach Porter noted in his post game comments that halftime changed the tide of the game. Nashville had the edge in shots, Columbus was at just six shots at the end of the first half while the visitors were at seven. By the end of the second the Crew had 18 with seven on frame to Nashville’s eight with one on frame.
With a full compliment of subs for the first time in weeks, Porter made all his changes from halftime on. Wright-Phillips and Hairston came on at the half. Alex Matan and Kevin Molino entered as the second half progressed. This changed the dynamic and the chemistry of the team. The Crew had attacking options on the bench which helped the team control possession, but they simply couldn’t finish.
The Black & Gold have another quick turn around as they travel to Atlanta for a Saturday afternoon showdown. Atlanta currently sits in tenth in the Eastern Conference and will be looking to snag just their third win of the season after tying FC Cincinnati tonight. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET.