Chicago opened content to play deep and spring on the counter attack. The Crew saw some of the ball early, but much of the possession was in the middle third of the field.
The Black & Gold did find a bit of possession early and Darlington Nagbe tested the Fire goal in the fourth minute with a shot from just outside the penalty area. The shot was screened; Chicago goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth saw it late, but watched the ball blaze a yard wide left.
The home side settled into the game and found more time on the ball and put the Crew defense under pressure. In the 19th minute, Chinonso Offor headed on the long-range free kick from Jonathan Bornstein, but the ball popped wide right.
In the 23rd minute, an intercepted Jonathan Mensah pass turned into a counter for the Fire. Gastón Giménez pushed forward and found a seam in the Columbus defense and launched a left-footed shot right at goalkeeper Eloy Room, who saved easily.
Chinonso Offor created the next dangerous moment in the 42nd minute. Francisco Calvo sent the ball into the forward with a long throw. Offor pushed back Mensah, got a bit of space before his shot was blocked. His crossing attempt was put out by Aboubacar Keita to momentarily end the danger. Chicago’s short free kick routine didn’t end in a good look.
After struggling to build up in the first half, the Crew offense showed some quick passing that created a good chance early. Nagbe picked up a loose pass on the press and quickly routed the ball to Pedro Santos on the left. The winger slipped the ball into Lucas Zelarayan; the Argentine playmaker played a redirecting touch into the path of Gyasi Zardes. The forward’s left-footed shot hit side netting in the 49th minute.
The Black & Gold press once again created a midfield turnover, leading to another Columbus attack shortly after. Zelarayan slipped through midfield and found Derrick Etienne Jr. on the right. He whipped in a dangerous cross that forced some quick defending to clear the danger in the 51st minute.
Chicago made a couple of substitutions as Robert Beric and Brian Gutierrez entered in the 59th minute. The fresh legs made a quick impact as the Fire disrupted the Crew transitions and found a few chances. The home side only turned the initial surge into a Fabian Herbers 61st minute shot.
The Crew nearly fall behind on a hopeful ball forward and an outstanding play from Beric. The popped header forced Room to push the ball over the bar to keep it 0-0 in the 72nd minute.
Chicago broke through moments later as the Fire put Columbus under pressure. Brian Gutierrez slipped into the penalty box and drew in the defense before finding Beric. The forward’s shot was blocked, but it fell to Stojanovic, who quickly turned and finished the chance to make it 1-0 in the 78th minute. After a quick video review for a handball, the goal was confirmed.
The Crew created some last-ditch pressure into stoppage time. Substitute Alexandru Matan curled in a shot in the 92nd minute that forced a big save. Kevin Molino’s followup shot was blocked and fellow sub Bradley Wright-Phillips' follow up shot dribbled off the left post.
Keeping it Clean(er)
After giving up 11 goals in the last three games, the Crew desperately needed to turn in a solid defensive effort. The team did against the Fire. The defense cut out the mistakes and kept poor turnovers to a minimum. Chicago didn’t have many open looks at goal. The Fire tallied 17 shots, but only registered 1.03 expected goals. That’s a testament to limiting the danger over the match.
After such a poor defensive stretch, the Black & Gold defense needed something different. It wasn’t a shutout, but this group kept Columbus in the game.
Not Expecting Goals
The defense kept the Crew in the game. After falling well behind in the three previous losses, Columbus had a chance to win on the night. The offense was not able to create chances all game. The Black & Gold failed to put a shot on target until Matan’s 92nd minute attempt that forced a save from Shuttlesworth.
Until the last flurry, the Crew offense rarely threatened going forward as they struggled with attacking urgency. Zelarayan was often left to pick up possession deep in the midfield and often looked to dribble through pressure. Etienne and Santos didn’t threaten from the wings. Without Marlon Hairston, the midfield lacked range to go forward. It was a toothless attacking performance.
With the loss, the Crew now have the team’s seventh loss on the year. The Black & Gold’s record drops the team to 6-7-6 and 24 points on the year. Columbus is now out of the playoff spots, sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind CF Montreal and three points ahead of Atlanta United.
The Black & Gold have a midweek matchup against the New York Red Bulls. They head to New Jersey for the Wednesday 8 p.m. ET kickoff.