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Game Grades: Crew vs. Inter Miami

How the Crew players performed in another loss on the road.

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

For the first time in months, the Columbus Crew deployed close to a full-strength lineup on Saturday night in the first-ever meeting with Inter Miami. Several key players were finally available after long injury layoffs, but the reinforcements weren’t enough to change the result, a 1-0 loss.

The Crew limited Miami’s chances fairly well and the team created some of their own but once again had a major mistake and couldn’t capitalize in the attack. The return of some important players wasn’t enough to avoid another road defeat.

Let’s take a look at how the players performed in the loss.

Starters

Eloy Room (6) - Room probably did as much as he could to trouble Gonzalo Higuain on his goal, forcing a good play out of the Argentine striker. Otherwise, it was a quiet night for the goalkeeper. Inter didn’t have much punch going forward, save for a few counter situations. Room made a couple of fine stops to keep the Crew in the game.

Harrison Afful (6) - On the positive, Afful’s passing was much sharper than in previous games. He connected well going forward, including a couple of switching passes that opened up Miami. However, the negatives were notable. Afful failed to connect on a single cross, with many of them failing to create danger. He also left considerable space for Robbie Robinson to counter on his side of the field.

Vito Wormgoor (5) - A wide open game was always going to challenge Wormgoor. Charged with leading the backline, he struggled with pace in the open field and was often catching up to plays. He also lacked the confidence to engage one-on-one. That left the center back backing up and allowing shooting angles.

Josh Williams (4.5) - The big miscue was bad, a blind pass intended for Wormgoor that went straight to Higuain for the goal. With the offense struggling, there is little margin for error. So a catastrophically poor back pass that directly leads to a goal might end up as a season killer. Williams was generally solid on defense, but much like the rest of the Black & Gold backline, he didn’t have much to do once Miami was in the lead. The team has missed his aerial prowess on set pieces. His dangerous second half shot was one of the best chances of the game for a Columbus team that can’t score.

Milton Valenzuela (6.5) - In his 45 minutes, it was clear what the Crew missed without Valenzuela on the field. The left back pushed up more successfully into the attacking third, was able to pass his way out of trouble and started what turned into the Black & Gold’s best chance of the first half. Defensively, Valenzuela had the best stats on the backline. He won two of three duels, was one-for-one on tackles and had an interception. It wasn’t classic Valenzuela, but he put in a valuable shift in his first game back in two months.

Marlon Hairston (6) - Another case where it’s apparent what Columbus missed with Hairston out. He’s not Artur, but no player on the team can cover ground like Hairston in the middle of the field. He can range sideline to sideline if needed and connected on 93 percent of his 44 passes. Importantly, he allowed Nagbe to pop into better spaces further up the field as the Crew attempted to attack.

Darlington Nagbe (6) - The team’s metronome consistently tried to play into dangerous spots but struggled to connect forward passes. He often looked to cycle possession wide, often to Afful or link back to Hairston. When pushing forward, Nagbe often didn’t have clear passes as Inter contested the middle of the final third. Additionally, the wingers often weren’t in dangerous situations when Nagbe found them.

Derrick Etienne Jr. (6) - Coming in from the right, Etienne didn’t test the Miami backline with his pace, nor did he link up with the attack especially well. He also wasn’t very effective as the first line of engagement on defense as the Inter counter attack moved several times through his zone. The highlight of the evening was his cutting run into the penalty area and one-time shot on goal that forced a save.

Lucas Zelarayan (6) - This was the typical “bad” Zelarayan game. The Argentine is supremely talented, but when the attacking fluidity is lacking, he often attempts to take the entire offensive load on his shoulders, trying to do too much to break compact teams down on the dribble and turning over the ball or looking to shoot before passing. This leaves Zelarayan visibly frustrated and occurred throughout this game.

Pedro Santos (6) - Another player who struggled on the evening, Santos lacked the cutting edge most of the game as the fatigue of a busy stretch caught up with him. Only Nagbe, Room and Zelarayan have played more minutes than Santos this year and it shows. Without the ability to break down players on the dribble and the linkup play nonexistent, Santos often would try to force plays, much like Zelarayan.

Miguel Berry (5.5) - Berry struggled with the nature of the game in the first half. He was too slow to drop deep and link up with the midfield when they were pressed. He also was slow to move into the channels to provide an outlet. The lack of speed also means that the Crew can’t try a long outlet in hopes of playing over the press. It showed up in his stats: 10 touches and seven passes in 45 minutes.

Substitutes

Gyasi Zardes (6.5) - Entering as a halftime substitute, Zardes was an instant upgrade on Berry’s largely lethargic shift in the first half. Showing more mobility, the forward dropped into space to link up with the midfield, but also moved into channels to open up space for the attacking midfield to run into. He also showed the ability to interchange as Zelarayan, Etienne and Santos moved centrally. That has been missing since he’s been out.

Liam Fraser (6) - Replacing Hairston, Fraser showed off his skillset. While he cannot cover the ground that Hairston can, he’s able to play long passes to switch the ball around more effectively. It didn’t directly lead to a Black & Gold chance, but it was probably a better fit as Columbus saw more of the ball as they chased the game in the second half.

Waylon Francis (5) - Coming on for Valenzuela at halftime, Francis struggled to recreate the impact of the Argentine left back. He wasn’t able to create as much width on the left side with overlapping runs but was fairly untroubled in defense as Inter Miami wasn’t able to effectively counter down his side of the field.

Luis Díaz (6.5) - Diaz added significant verticality coming on for the injured Santos in the 57th minute. The Crew had several moments of danger as he was able to track down long diagonals that stretched the Inter defense and changed the point of the attack. He also connected on several passes to keep attacks going. His late shot/cross created a brief moment of hope of salvaging a result. One of the few from the team all evening.

Alexandru Matan (6.5) - It was an interesting performance from the Romanian. He showed off his excellent ball skills, dribbling around trouble several times in the penalty to keep attacks going. Matan won five of his six duels and was three-for-three on dribbles. This contest also showed the areas of his game he still needs to polish. In his 26 minutes, Matan had a solid 19 touches, but only 10 passes. So for his time on the ball, he still struggled to connect with the rest of the attack consistently.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (5.5) - Porter and the coaching staff had different challenges than the past month with actual lineup decisions. Valenzuela, Hairston and Williams came into the lineup as the Crew moved back into the team’s 4-3-2-1 formation. Porter also made three changes at halftime, but only one of them could be considered tactical. Valenzuela and Hairston are coming back from injury and had their minutes managed. Zardes’ halftime introduction may have come from the lack of punch in the first half. The personnel changes and reversion in formation didn’t create much danger on the evening as evidenced by the seven shots and 0.6 expected goals tally.