Entering Saturday evening, the Columbus Crew had added pressure to get a result after two straight losses. Off the field, Columbus celebrated youth soccer night with throwback photos of members of the Black & Gold. On the field, head coach Caleb Porter’s side hoped to put on a throwback performance to the season opener when they won 4-0 on their only clean sheet of the season. Instead, it was the opposite. Orlando City walked into Lower.com Field and left with a 2-0 victory, even without Orlando’s leading goal scorer, winger Alexandre Pato
Columbus started on the front foot. With Orlando defender Antonio Carlos out due to injury, Columbus overloaded the right side of the field. That put winger Yaw Yeboah on center stage. On most first half attacks, it was Yeboah either moving the play forward or sending in the final pass.
Yeboah’s tenure in Black & Gold is still new, playing in his seventh match with the club. That freshness showed at times. On two occasions, passes from midfielder Lucas Zelarayán were intended to set Yeboah forward, to get behind the defense, but Yeboah didn’t anticipate the movement, turning the ball over.
For the bad moments of miscommunication, there was promise. Yeboah did break the backline but the final pass, or shot from his pass, always met the body of an Orlando defender.
The Black & Gold’s best chance came in the 32nd minute. Defender Kyle Smith fouled Zelarayán two or three feet from the corner of the penalty area. It was a spot where the Argentinian could have gone cross or shot. Zelarayán opted for a shot that struck the top of the crossbar.
For all the deflected chances for the Black & Gold, it wasn’t enough to break through. Then, Orlando made Columbus pay on a familiar foe: a set piece.
On a secondary pass Mauricio Pereyra sends in a pass with major curve into the 18-yard-box. Júnior Urso sent the pass across the face of goal for a waiting defender Rodrigo Schlegel who tapped in the first goal of the match.
The first half of Saturday’s matchup felt a lot like the last four halves of soccer seen by Crew supporters. Columbus carried the possession battle with 57.2% and took eight shots on goal but none on target. Orlando’s four shots included two on target and one going into the net.
The start of the second half didn’t get better. With Columbus looking for the comeback, they sent numbers forward and left a taller task for the defense. In the 51st minute, in the run of play, new Orlando forward Ercan Kara added a second for the visitors.
Kara received a pass into the box but initially sent it to Facundo Torres. In a series that took a couple seconds, Kara turned on the ball and shot past defender Miloš Degenek and Eloy Room.
Now down two goals, the Crew turned up the heat. Head coach Caleb Porter made a triple substitution eight minutes later. Wingers Derrick Etienne Jr., Yaw Yeboah and defender Degenek all came off for forward Gyasi Zardes, midfielder James Igbekeme and the first regular season minutes for center back Josh Williams.
That shifted the Crew’s formation to four defenders, four in the midfield and forwards Zardes and Miguel Berry up front. The Crew sent in pass after pass but couldn’t break through. All the while, Orlando sat back and took seconds off the clock with fouls and extra time to set up goal kicks and set pieces.
While Columbus had intensity, what they didn’t have were many shots on goal. After Orlando went up two goals, Columbus had only two on frame. The Crew leave the match with another match that leaves questions on what Columbus can do to turn the ship around.
Timid Shooting Continues
For the third match in a row, Columbus’ shooting wasn’t there. While part of the blame is a second team being on the field to stop them, chances of indecision gave Orlando chances to recover from space given up and block shots.
Columbus didn’t have a shot on goal until the 48th minute and it took almost 30 minutes for another shot on goal. Stifled creativity in setting up shots is allowing opponents to sit back and force the Crew to do more.
The Crew ended with only 3 shots on goal on 17 shots. Of the shots on goal, one is even debatable with Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese grabbing a Zelarayán shot just outside of the post. While those numbers help the Crew’s offensive stats look better, it’s not helping score goals.
Decisions to Make
The Crew are now 270 minutes away from their last goal scored, in the final breathe of Columbus’ 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls on March 20. Porter’s had the benefit of a healthy side for the beginning of the season, which is a polar opposite to what he had in 2021.
On the positive side, it lets the team continue to build chemistry, but it negatively impacts creating much of anything new. Coming into the match, Zelarayán led the Crew in chances created with 24. Not another Crew teammate was in double digits.
It’s time to see what other offensive-minded players on the field can do because the same thing isn’t working.
Igbekeme came on and gave Columbus a spark in distribution and moving the ball up the field. Zardes also played at a high level, taking the only shot on goal after Orlando went up.
The Black & Gold don’t get a ton of time before their next competition. Tuesday, Columbus heads a few hours north, to Detroit, Michigan. It’s the Crew’s first US Open Cup match since 2019, after the COVID-19 pandemic put the domestic tournament on hold. Columbus faces Detroit City FC, of the USL Championship, the second division of US Soccer.
Lineup-wise, it’s not likely to see a similar starting 11 than Porter used on Saturday, but the extra preparation does throw a wrench into the usual week of training.
Following their trip to Michigan, the Black & Gold go back on the road and back to MLS regular season play. Saturday, April 23, Columbus takes on Sporting Kansas City in their only matchup of the season.