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What We Learned: Crew vs. Philadelphia Union

It was another loss, but one that provided some different takeaways for the Black & Gold.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago, the Columbus Crew lost the team’s first game of the 2022 season, falling 1-0 to Nashville SC at Lower.com Field. This past Saturday, the Crew dropped another 1-0 result, this time on the road to the Philadelphia Union.

While the two scorelines were the same, the games were not. Unlike Nashville on the road, a team that sat back after scoring the opening goal in the first 30 minutes, the Union continued to push at least some numbers forward, looking for a second and not sitting all 11 players behind the ball. In both games, the Black & Gold had chances to equalize, actually enough chances to win, but couldn’t get the job done and this match could have easily finished 4-4.

Last week, the first loss of the year gave Columbus some teachable moments. This week provides others. Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Crew’s defeat.

Mistakes are proving costly

It took just two minutes into the game against Philadelphia for the Black & Gold to commit a major mistake. On what appeared to be a routine catch from a cross, goalkeeper Eloy Room dropped the ball — or better yet, never had control of it — knocking it into the goal for a 1-0 lead for the home side. This was a mistake in a series of mistakes at the back for Columbus so far in 2022.

While the season started with a nearly flawless defensive performance from the Crew, the Vancouver Whitecaps haven’t proven to be a good team this year, especially on the offensive end. Since then, the Black & Gold have been good defensively, but timely mistakes that the opponent capitalizes on have cost the team almost every game.

At first, it was lackadaisical defending on set pieces that was the issue, as defenders weren’t properly marking or didn’t track a runner throughout the play, something that crept up again and almost allowed the Union to go up 2-0 in the first half. Against Nashville, it was a slip at the back by left back Pedro Santos at the wrong time on a cross. This week it was Room’s gaff that must have looked comical from a Philadelphia perspective.

Ideally, Columbus would stop making as many mistakes at the back, but mistakes do happen and this week actually featured the most of any game. The problem is that the Crew keeps getting punished and hasn’t caught much in the way of a break. One would think things would even out and teams would stop pouncing on these opportunities, but the Black & Gold are now six games into the season and can’t seem to get beyond these issues.

Scoring is becoming a problem

For the second consecutive game, Columbus was held without a goal. This comes after the team scored seven times in the first two games, but the well has seemingly dried up. This corresponds with a lack of miraculous goals from midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who scored his four goals in the first three games and has since put only two of his 12 shots on target.

It’s not fair to criticize Zelarayan, as he continues to be the Crew’s best attacking player, and winger Derrick Etienne Jr. continues to have his best season early on, but all other Black & Gold offensive players need to be examined.

As mentioned previously in this piece, the forwards should receive much of the blame when Columbus doesn’t score. Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes are paid to score goals and for the fourth straight game, neither found the back of the net. Once again, neither was all that dangerous either. Berry made his fifth start of the season and managed just two shots, none on target. Zardes came off the bench for 18 minutes and didn’t register a shot.

With all the talk about the Crew having two talented forwards this season coming into the year, the team is lacking in this department right now.

Winger Yaw Yeboah hasn’t given the Black & Gold enough to start the season either. One of the bigger signings in the offseason, Yeboah has not performed poorly but is yet to look comfortable in and around the penalty box. Wingers Luis Diaz and Alexandru Matan both have had brief positive moments but aren’t providing any consistency in the attack either.

Given the costly mistakes at the back, Columbus needs its attacking pieces to score goals and can’t be overly reliant on Zelarayan or Etienne, who has 10 career goals, to put the ball in the back of the net each match. There is too much attacking talent to be missing chances like the ones the Crew has created.

Eloy Room redeemed himself

For as poor as Room’s mistake was that gave the Union the lead and eventually the three points, it’s worth pointing out that the goalkeeper also prevented the game from being 2-0 or 3-0 with some important saves. The Curaço international got down and denied Philadelphia attackers who were clean in on goal in each half, usually bailing out a teammate who made a mistake at the back — fans saw those careless passes from Jonathan Mensah again.

Room is not a perfect goalkeeper and can be criticized for how he commands his penalty area, but he is one of the best shot stoppers in MLS. Like with Berry and Zardes in terms of scoring goals, Room is paid to keep the ball out of the net. While in this game he actually put it the goal, more often than not Room does his job well and has over his tenure with the Black & Gold.

The goalkeeper rightly received criticism for his own goal, but the saves he made kept it a one-goal game and gave the Crew the chance to get something out of the match. He even came forward on a late corner and almost got on the end of the ball served into the 18-yard box.