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Three Hard Hats of the Game: Crew vs. San Jose Earthquakes

After a tough 3-3 draw against the Earthquakes, which three Crew players stood above the rest?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

In the second game of the 2022 Major League Soccer season, the Columbus Crew continued where the team left off against the Vancouver Whitecaps on opening day, scoring three times in the 3-3 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes. It continued a record start to the season offensively for the Black & Gold.

Disregarding the final 10 minutes, where Columbus conceded twice on set pieces to allow three road points to become one, the Crew did well to possess with intention and create opportunities to score from all points on the field.

Let’s take a look at the Three Hard Hats of the Game from the draw against the Quakes.

Lucas Zelerayan

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes
Lucas Zelarayan curls a free kick goal into the new to give the Crew a 3-1 second half lead at PayPal Park.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Armenian international made his presence known in California, scoring two goals on the day and serving as the Black & Gold’s best playmaker. His 40th minute goal opened his account with yet another great strike from outside the penalty box and his 73rd minute free kick couldn’t have been placed better.

Zelerayan possessed the ball with intent, as well. He rarely held onto the ball too long or went backward with his passes, which gave the Columbus offense a clear intent, allowing for a thorough attack throughout the match. The Crew’s No. 10 was accurate with his final passes, creating for key chances for the Black & Gold. He was precise, accurate and deadly distributing the ball in the final third, making the players around him better.

Additionally, Zelarayan is solidifying himself as the best set piece taker in the league, having scored seven free kick goals since joining Columbus in 2000. From just outside the 18-yard box, Zelarayan continues to be deadly.

Overall, Zelerayan was the Crew’s most influential player, creating chances for himself and others, as well as setting the offensive tempo. He did everything you expect of a No. 10 on the field.

Darlington Nagbe

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes
Darlington Nagbe continued doing whatever was needed of him on the road on Saturday.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Nagbe has been quiet in the first two games, not having to be as ball dominant as the previous season, but his movement off the ball has been excellent. With the return of Artur, Nagbe finds himself in different positions than a year ago, either sitting defensively, covering the middle of the park from counter attacks or pushing up closer to Zelerayan. In either position, Nagbe has been sublime, accurately completing 45 of his 46 passes and winning 7 of his 11 ground duels against San Jose.

The Ohio native’s positioning in the defensive third didn’t allow the Earthquakes much space to play through the middle of the park, evident in the team’s goalscoring pattern, which was exclusively off dead-ball plays. Nagbe was the tough midfielder that he has always been in a Columbus uniform. For the full 90 minutes, he dominated the midfield, helping to shut down any attack from the Earthquakes and took the hard foul that led to the Quakes’ red card.

Derrick Etienne Jr.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes
It was a second consecutive solid performance for the Crew winger against the Earthquakes.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Etienne continued from where he left off against Vancouver, finding gaps on the wings and in the middle of the penalty box, which puts him in dangerous positions. His connection with Zelerayan against San Jose was far better than the previous week. Through one-touch combinations, both players were able to exploit the open space, leading to several goal scoring opportunities. This was evident in the 26th minute, where Etienne and Zelerayan combined in the final third for an Etienne cross and a Zelerayan shot.

The Haitian winger was also good at getting wide and staying wide. Against a team with 10 men, this is important as it allowed more space in the middle through stretching the backline. When the ball switched sides of the field, Etienne was frequently open and able to take the open space on the sideline to serve crosses in the penalty box, shown in his three crosses during the game.

In the draw, Etienne had two shots on target and created one big chance, resulting in an assist on Gyasi Zardes’ goal, adding another impressive game to his early 2022 season play.

How did you think the Crew players performed. Is there someone we missed that deserved recognition in their play on Saturday? Let us know in the comment section below.