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What We Learned: Crew vs. Nashville SC

Our major takeaways from Wednesday night’s scoreless draw between Columbus and Nashville.

SOCCER: JUL 21 MLS - Nashville SC at Columbus Crew Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Columbus Crew walked out of Field Wednesday night with a point after a 0-0 draw against Nashville SC. Despite the Black & Gold extending its unbeaten run to five games, the team wasn’t satisfied with just a point. The game was dominated by Columbus in the second half with the Crew creating numerous good goalscoring opportunities but the team couldn’t finish.

Columbus’ home record is unblemished still but the performance left a little to be desired in the attack, especially with the final shooting product. However, the team is starting to get into its stride slowly but steadily towards the end of the first half of the season.

Here are our major takeaways from the draw at Field.

The Crew needs to start matches faster

The second half was dominant from the Crew but the same can’t be said about the first 45 minutes. While possession was heavily in favor of Columbus, the team was lethargic out of the gates and lacked quick attacks that we saw in the second half. Head coach Caleb Porter said if the first half was like the second, the Black & Gold would have certainly won the game.

This season, Columbus hasn’t gotten off of the starting blocks quickly with just four goals scored in the first 25 minutes of matches. While fans have seen the Crew get results in 2021, wins have been less common than draws and not scoring first is a cause.

In 14 MLS games in 2021, the Black & Gold have scored their first goal before halftime on four occasions, and on all four occasions, the team won the match. It’s vital for this team to score first to truly put a stranglehold on its opponents. Midfielder Marlon Hairston mentioned after the game that the team want to dominate earlier in games after slow starts.

Porter knows this team’s offense will be more electric as the season progresses and a key factor to ignite the current is to attack quicker in the first half.

The defense is hitting its peak

The Columbus defense was elite in its 2020 championship season and has maintained that form in 2021. The start of last season was historically great with the Crew earning 10 clean sheets in its first 13 games. A start like that is very difficult to replicate but the beginning of the Black & Gold’s 2021 season has seen very good defense as well.

Wednesday was the team’s fifth clean sheet of the season with four of those coupled with a scoreless performance from the Crew offense. This campaign especially has been impressive for the defense when factoring in the multiple combinations on the backline with as many as 10 players have played on defense in 2021.

Center back Jonathan Mensah is the constant in most matches but has started with three different center back partners already and a handful of fullbacks. Still, the Crew has conceded the second-fewest goals in MLS at 12 and is among the league leaders in blocked shots. The Columbus defense is among the league’s best and it doesn’t matter who is on the pitch.

Chance creation has improved

After the 0-0 draw with Austin FC, a takeaway was the Crew’s poor expected goals number. That xG for Columbus is still dead last in MLS but the margin has been cut thanks to Inter Miami’s recent goalless drought. Improvements have been made in chance creation and fan saw it first-hand at Field on Wednesday.

The offense passed the eye test in the second half with so many great scoring chances, the biggest coming from winger Kevin Molino in the 90th minute. Porter and each Crew player was shocked the team couldn’t score on Wednesday and the numbers don’t hold the truth either.

The Black & Gold’s xG for the match was 1.41 with a 1.13 expected goals number for open play shots. That’s a vast improvement compared to the early summer matches where the Crew could only get goals from free kicks or if the other team team scored for them. Wednesday was one of the best attacking halves of the season and the build-up play worked. These attackers just needed a shot to go in and no doubt those will come as Columbus approaches the second half of the season.