The Columbus Crew visited Orlando SC, a team which the Crew has struggled with of late. The Black & Gold went down 2-0 before staging a shock comeback in the second half to pull even, only to lose 3-2. With the loss, Columbus is now 1-7 in the last eight games and falls further off the MLS Cup playoff pace.
With nine absences, the Crew switched from the team’s usual formation and into a 4-1-4-1 formation. This look was similar to the “inverted triangle” that the Black & Gold used in the comeback against FC Cincinnati. Center back Aboubacar Keita came in for the captain Jonathan Mensah on the backline. Without five central midfielders, Pedro Santos moved into the middle of the field. After his super-sub appearance last week, Miguel Berry started in place of the injured Gyasi Zardes.
Orlando City took advantage of the makeshift lineup to control the game early. The Lions had much of the possession for the first 10 minutes but weren’t able to turn time on the ball into chances in the opening moments.
The first big chance of the game came in the 18th minute from Orlando who targeted left back Waylon Francis. Ruan took a pass into the 18-yard box, sped past a sliding tackle and cut the ball back for Daryl Dike. The forward’s shot was blocked by Vito Wormgoor and the ricochet shot was saved by Eloy Room.
Columbus crafted a half-chance in the 20th minute with a long ball to Berry that he nodded back to Lucas Zelarayan. The playmaker swung the ball wide to Derrick Etienne, who crossed the ball into the six-yard box, just missing a sliding Berry.
Orlando’s next chance came off a cleared ball forward from Nani. The long ball fell into the area where Dike and Keita battled. The powerful forward pushed off the Crew center back. Dike, with the ball, sped past the off-balance Keita and bore down on goal. He eluded the recovering Keita and rotating Wormgoor to bury the shot to put Orlando up 1-0 in the 26th minute. A result that stood after a brief VAR check in the booth.
The Crew’s night got worse just three minutes later as the Lions settled into a bit of possession in the offensive third. After a pass back by Ryan, Silvester van der Water sent in a left-footed cross from deep. Unmarked, Chris Mueller broke into space for the free header, freezing Room, but the pass fell past the Orlando attackers and Room and landed in the corner of the net to extend the lead to 2-0.
Columbus had another chance in the 36th minute after playing quickly into the attacking third. Zelarayan linked up with Alexandru Matan in the left channel. The diminutive winger cut centrally, dribbling by the defense. His shot was drilled toward the right corner, but backup goalkeeper Adam Grinwis parried the shot past the post.
The Black & Gold pushed forward to claw back a goal. Zelarayan had a 43rd minute free kick in prime scoring territory, but drove it into the wall.
The second half continued the momentum of the first. Santos lost the ball under pressure and gave Junior Urso the ball and a free path at the Crew goal. Room parried the 20-yard shot, giving up a corner kick. The Black & Gold able to defend the corner and end the danger.
Columbus did claw back a goal after an Orlando City gift. Zelarayan tried to play the ball forward with a clipped ball. Berry contested the high ball with Antonio Carlos. but the Orlando City defender headed the ball back towards goal, by his keeper and into the goal to cut the score to 2-1 in the 51st minute.
The Crew struck quickly to complete the comeback. With the Black & Gold in possession, Zelarayan sent a long pass into Etienne just in the penalty area. He clipped a pass into space deeper into the 18-yard box. Berry ran onto the ball and finished the 1-on-1 chance to tie the game in the 53rd minute.
The quick two-goal barrage stunned Orlando, as the team’s surging attacks stuttered. Columbus struggled to continue the momentum. With the game stretched, neither side could create true danger.
Another mistake wasn’t far in the offing, this time by the Crew. Orlando started to get a little more pressure in the final third. Columbus had a chance to clear after Zelarayan intercepted the ball. He attempted to dribble clear, but the home side quickly counter-pressed and got the ball back. Dike collected the ball and played a simple ball back to Urso. His shot found the far corner to restore Orlando to the lead in the 68th minute.
Pushing numbers forward, the Crew scrapped for an equalizer as the game headed to the final 10 minutes. Santos drifted wide left and chipped a pass into Zelarayan. The Argentine dribbled into the box and cut back a pass inside the six-yard box. The packed-in Orlando defense snuffed out the chance in the 80th minute without facing a shot.
OCSC attempted to take advantage of the space left by the Crew defense. Mauricio Pereira sliced into the open field and found Tesho Akindele in space. The substitute curled his shot past the post, keeping the score 3-2 in the 84th minute.
The Crew continued to push forward, but couldn’t create quality chances. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips had a couple half chances. His 89th minute shot was blocked and his 90th minute half volley went well over the crossbar.
Can’t make do
The Columbus Crew desperately need points as the team is outside the playoff positions with only 12 games remaining coming into the evening. Columbus had to do it with three new starters from last week’s last gasp win against FC Cincinnati. Jonathan and Liam Fraser are on international duty. Luis Diaz picked up a hamstring injury midweek. The stretched lineup was stretched even further. The scoreline was credible, but the result showed how hard it will be for Columbus to claw into the playoffs.
While the attack lacked spark for much of the game, the threadbare nature of the defense was most evident. Keita struggled without Jonathan Mensah paired next to him. Wormgoor lacked the pace to cover for any errors, as did Waylon Francis on the left. Without Fraser, and longer-term Artur, there was little shielding of the backline. Orlando picked apart these weaknesses all night.
Caleb Porter “inverted” the triangle against Cincinnati when the Black & Gold were chasing the game last week. By necessity, he did so again tonight. Darlington Nagbe played as the holding midfielder with Zelarayan and Santos in that dual No. 10 role.
Without a ground covering, shielding defensive midfielder, Orlando found success in transition. The home side found consistent danger attacking through the midfield and being able to pick out a pass forward. This put further pressure on a wobbly defense. It’s clear that the Crew miss Artur, but on the night they missed the range of Marlon Hairston or the stability of Fraser.
With the loss, the Crew falls to 7-10-6 on the year. Columbus has 27 points on the year and remains outside the playoff spots, three points behind idle D.C. United. The Black & Gold now have a week off before heading back to Florida to face Inter Miami on Saturday, Sept. 11 with kickoff at 8 p.m. ET.