The Columbus Crew is in a unique stretch of the 2021 season. The underlying tone of the past few weeks has been dictated by the undeniable lack of depth – an unexpected problem for a team that made adding depth a focus in the offseason. Between international call-ups, which were expected, and a rash of injuries, which were not expected, head coach Caleb Porter has worked with a squad that, at times, has been without as many as 12 players at a time.
Lineups have ebbed and flowed as a result. Recently, Black & Gold fans have gotten to see a variety of offensive combinations. The past four games have seen five different strikers — Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan (playing a “False 9” against FC Cincinnati), second-year pro Miguel Berry, the recently acquired Erik Hurtado and offseason signing Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has subbed in during the past two matches.
While the Crew is undefeated in these last five matches, Porter and his attackers remain hungry for more offensive production. Last Wednesday’s game against Nashville SC, for instance, saw a plethora of chances for the Columbus side but still ended in a 0-0 draw.
“That second half, I don’t know how we didn’t find a goal,” Porter said. “It wasn’t for lack of positioning, it wasn’t for lack of chances. So I think that gives me optimism moving forward that we will score goals.”
After the draw with Nashville, veteran striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said, “Today was a good example of what it should look like, well the second half anyway. Gyasi’s gone, we’ve got to put some of those goals on our shoulders and try to get some goals and finish the plays.”
Midfielder Marlon Hairston was also encouraged by what he saw from the Black & Gold against Nashville, especially considering the number of players who were absent in recent weeks.
“Just seeing some of the attacking ideas coming in in the second half, it was great to see,” Hairston said. “Going forward, we want to create more chances like that and also capitalize on those opportunities.”
It’s not as if the Crew has been scoreless. Far from it. The Black & Gold scored at least two goals in half their games this season. But they’ve also been held to zero on the score sheet five times and played to four draws in the team’s last five games, something Porter wants to see improve.
“I think mostly it’s putting together a complete performance, starting games a little stronger, more aggressive,” he said.
Wright-Phillips called goals the last piece of having that complete performance.
“I think the attackers have got a lot more to do, because we don’t concede much,” he said.
The state of his offense is not concerning to Porter given how well the team plays defensively — the second-best goals against record in Major League Soccer — as well as the unique situation the squad is in with constantly changing lineups. But the team has found the back of the net just 15 times in 14 games, seventh worst in MLS.
“I think because we’ve had so many different players in, the chemistry and lack thereof at times, that’s probably played a little bit of a role,” Porter said. “It would concern me probably more if we had our group together and we weren’t scoring goals, or if we were giving up a lot of goals and losing games.”
The offense will look to get rolling once again on Saturday afternoon against a struggling Atlanta United team that has only had two clean sheets this season. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.