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What We Learned: Crew vs. Seattle Sounders

In a game like that, there is plenty to learn about a team.

Massive Report

The Columbus Crew fell 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday night, extending the team’s losing streak to six games. This ties the longest consecutive string of defeats by the club in its history and is now the longest for the Crew in the post-shootout MLS era.

While it is another defeat, this one will likely hurt more than any of the other five. The Black & Gold scored the opening goal in the 77th minute and led as late as the 88th minute. Even a point, after allowing the Sounders to equalize, would have been something. Instead, Columbus conceded two goals in the closing moments and received a proverbial swift kick to the gut.

From watching this game play out, there was plenty to take away, so let’s get to it.

The Crew players are in their own heads

There are a number of reasons — fans may call them excuses — for why this team has gone on a historically poor run of form of late, but none of them apply in this game. No, this wasn’t the Black & Gold’s first-choice lineup going against one of the best teams in MLS this year, but it was a lineup that did enough to win the game.

But somehow, despite needing to just hold the advantage for two minutes plus stoppage time, Columbus couldn’t do it. Instead of the strong defending those at Field saw for the vast majority of the game, forcing Seattle to take shots from outside the penalty box and keeping the Western Conference’s best team out of dangerous positions, it was panic in the final two minutes, especially after the game went to 1-1.

Center back Vito Wormgoor admitted after the game that he was tired and that the backline was not switched on at the moment of Xavier Arreaga’s equalizer. Once the tying goal went in, the Sounders looked the more likely team to grab a quick second goal, and they did.

Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said the Crew should have gone for the necks after scoring the first goal — something he could have done if he’d managed to get on the end of a dangerous Luis Diaz cross just moments after he scored the opener. Instead, staying at 1-0 allowed Seattle to stay alive in this game.

After five losses, the players on the field were clearly thinking about how much they needed to get the result instead of playing to do so. Too much thinking, especially when it’s not about the game, isn’t positive. Last year, the Black & Gold had the belief they could close out one-goal games. Right now, the consecutive losses were in the back of the players’ minds and that, almost assuredly, led to overthinking, mistakes and ultimately another loss.

No longer unbeaten when leading

Prior to the loss to Seattle, Columbus was 5-0 this season when scoring the first goal. Only once last year did the team lose a game when taking the lead. The importance of getting the first goal was something discussed with the players and among the media prior to the match.

Unfortunately for the Crew, that first-goal magic is now tainted.

While the Black & Gold certainly remain a much better team when playing with a lead, the same level of confidence in scoring the first goal, and that resulting in a win or even a draw, is out the window.

This game marked the perfect opportunity to get out of the slump, especially when Wright-Phillips gave Columbus the lead with 13 minutes to play. Columbus had enough going the team’s way to extend its streak after scoring the opener but simply couldn’t get the job done.

The talk can now no longer focus on scoring the first goal, but figuring out what has to go right for this team to finally get a win.

The Crew can play the way the Crew wants to play

For much of the game on Saturday evening, the Black & Gold looked much more like the Black & Gold that won an MLS Cup a year ago. While the Sounders certainly controlled stretches and created chances throughout the contest, Columbus went toe-to-toe with the team that it faced in the championship game a year ago.

Some will point out that the Crew didn’t get a shot on goal until Pedro Santos attempted a chip of Stefan Cleveland in the middle of the second half, and they would be correct. The Black & Gold want to create more and have more attempts on goal. But the possession and ball movement, especially considering the players that weren’t available, was as good in this game as it’s been in some time, and this was against a very good defensive Seattle side.

Columbus also was able to use space and exploit the wide areas more than the team has of late. Whether it was Santos, Daiz, Derrick Etienne Jr. or Saad Abdul-Salaam, there were players in crossing positions or being available for switches, which has been lacking in the Crew’s attack for much of this season.

Now, just because the team played more like head coach Caleb Porter wants it to doesn’t mean things are fixed — clearly, given the result. There was still far too much indecision in the attacking third, which led to bad passes or the balls being given away. Players seem to be thinking too much when they get around the penalty box or, especially in the case of Lucas Zelarayan, trying to do too much. That needs to change to get this offense even back to the middle of the road in MLS.

But this did seem to be a step in the right direction to getting the offense going.

Hell is Real will be real

Here’s a stat brought to you by Massive Report’s own Orri Benatar: Since the start of July, the Crew and FC Cincinnati have combined for a 2-9-10 record. While the Black & Gold has both of the wins in that stretch, Cincinnati has seven of the draws and Columbus has six of the defeats.

This is a simple way of saying both of these Ohio teams are riding the struggle bus heading into Friday night’s first-ever matchup at Field.

While one game does not a season make, and either side defeating the other won’t fix the last month-plus of results, getting a rivalry win can be a catalyst to turn things around. Losing in a derby game can compound an already bad situation.

While Porter and the Crew aren’t ready to hit the panic button yet, believing that the team can still turn things around and make the postseason over the final 13 games, a loss to Cincinnati, a team that remains seven points back in the standing, would put a lot of pressure on this team.

If the Black & Gold can’t get out of Friday night’s game with a victory, hell will certainly become real in Columbus.