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Crew fall to Inter Miami 1-0, further denting playoff chances

Another punchless display from the Black & Gold

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Inter Miami CF Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew lost 1-0 to an opportune Inter Miami. Capitalizing on an errant Josh Williams back pass, Gonzalo Higuain scored the lone goal of the game. The defeat was the the second in a row and for the eighth time in nine games as the Black & Gold fell further off the MLS Playoff pace.

It was a cagy opening to the match. The Crew had more of the ball and Inter Miami looked to press to disrupt the attack. Columbus inconsistently built through the midfield and wasn’t able to create a shot. The press created a couple short field chances for Miami, but the Black & Gold backline handled the half chances with ease.

The game changed on a Crew error in the 16th minute. Inter looked to press Williams at the back and the veteran turned to pass back to Room. The pass was under-hit and into an empty zone. Higuain picked up the ball at 25 yards out and only Eloy Room to beat. Vito Wormgoor rushed to try and clear the chipped shot, but was only able to clear it into the back of the net. Higuain was awarded the goal for his deft finish.

The Columbus offense showed sparks of life in the 19th minute. Milton Valenzuela recovered the ball in midfield and slipped a pass into Lucas Zelarayan centrally. He swung the ball to Pedro Santos. His cross centrally found Derrick Ettiene at 15 yards out. His one time stinging shot was right at Inter goalkeeper Nick Marsman.

The hosts nearly doubled their lead in the 21st minute as they broke on a counter. After snuffing out a Crew attack, Blaise Matuidi started the move with a pass to Rodolfo Pizarro. The attacker dribbled forward towards midfield and slipped the ball into Robbie Robinson into the final third. After dribbling into the penalty area, Robinson bended a shot on goal that forced a Room parry past the post. Columbus cleared the resulting corner.

After the post goal flurry, the pace of the game sagged in the Florida heat in humidity. The runs got a step slower and the passes a little less crisp. Neither team created much danger as the game was contested in midfield.

The Crew had a couple corners with five minutes in the half, but the best chance was a Hairston header towards goal that the Inter defense blocked the shot before it reached goal.

Inter did have a break just before halftime as Robinson again tracked down a long pass into space. His shot turned into a couple corner kicks. The most excitement came from Room’s collection of a popped up overhead kick. After Leandro Gonzalez Pirez trundled into Room, Vormgoor pushed Pirez away and the defender took a tumble. Referee Alan Kelly called a foul on the collision with Room and then called for halftime, lowering the temperature of the would be feud.

The game opened up in the second half. The Crew made three changes as fitness and the game state prompted a significant changes. Hairston, Valenzuela and Berry made way for Waylon Francis, Liam Fraser, and Gyasi Zardes.

The Crew pushed numbers forward with Zardes especially active, linking play and fighting for loose balls. The energy didn’t turn into shots as the Miami backline was able to limit chances. Zardes was able to fire off a 59th minute shot from distance saved by Marsman.

The Black & Gold’s best chances came from set plays. Williams found side netting from a Zelarayan free kick in the 68th minute. Zardes had a glancing header off a corner kick in the 72nd minute that went well wide of goal.

The Columbus attack finally created a bit of danger in the 82nd minute in another sustained period of pressure. Alex Matan took the ball into the right side of the penalty area and eluded the collapsing Inter defense. After pushing the ball back, Diaz slipped a pass back to Zelarayan who returned it to Diaz. His tight angled strike fell between a shot and a cross and forced a punch from Marsman just in front of a diving Zardes.

It was Diaz again that tested Inter in added time. After dribbling into the box, he unleashed a strong shot that Marsman parried wide and away from danger. It would be the last hope grab anything from the game.

A 10th Zero

Tonight was the tenth time the Crew have failed to score this season. A full 40% of Crew games end without a Black & Gold goal. In a wide open game, the Columbus attack struggled to create real chances. They managed seven shots, but two were from outside the penalty box. Two more chances were from set pieces, including the close range attempt from Williams. Otherwise the offense created little from the run of play, the best coming from Etienne in the first half.

Unhappy Returns

The positive is that the Crew are getting healthy. The game marked the return to the starting lineup of several players. Williams made his first start since June 19th after his 37 minute sub appearance last week. It also marked the return to the starting lineup of Valenzuela and Hairston. Valenzuela missed 12 games since his last appearance, an injury shortened start during the July 3rd Lower.com Field tie against New England. It was Hairston first appearance in five games since his last appearance in the August 7th loss to Atlanta. Both went 45 minutes in their return to action.

Zardes made the bench after missing three games with a hamstring strain and came on at halftime for Miguel Berry, playing 45 minutes.

What’s Next

The loss is another setback to the Crew’s sagging playoff hopes. The result moves the Crew to 7-11-6 on the year. They remain on 27 points trailing Atlanta and now Miami for the final playoff spot currently held by D.C. United and Montreal with 31 points. It will be a quick turnaround as the team hosts the New York Red Bulls on a rare Tuesday night matchup at Lower.com field. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.