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What We Learned: Crew vs. Orlando City SC

It was another loss that the Black & Gold needs to learn from.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Columbus Crew SC Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

For a third straight week, the Columbus Crew played a match and, despite arguably being the better team, came away with zero points in the standings. After two consecutive 1-0 defeats at the hands of Nashville SC and the Philadelphia Union, the Crew dropped a 2-0 result to Orlando City SC at Field.

While the Black & Gold once again had more of the ball and dominated in the shots department, creating enough chances to score, the excuses are starting to become hard to swallow. after a third straight shutout. The fact of the matter is this is a three-game losing streak. And while it is still early in the Major League Soccer campaign, these dropped points, especially at home, can be costly come the year’s end.

Once again, a defeat gave us some insight into this Columbus team that clearly needs something to change. Let’s take a look at what we learned from the match.

This front three may not be good enough

In all but one of the Crew’s seven matches this year, the attacking front three for the Black & Gold has seen Derrick Etienne Jr. on the left wing, Yaw Yeboah on the right wing and Miguel Berry as the striker. While Berry and Etienne got off to productive starts, with the striker scoring in the first game and the winger finding the back of the net in two of the first three matches, neither of these two has a goal in over a month. Yeboah is yet to score in his first year in MLS.

It’s fair to point out that there have been unlucky moments during that stretch. Etienne in particular has continued to be dangerous and once again got into good spots on Saturday, but both he and Berry had three shots, none of which ended up challenging the goalkeeper. Yeboah has three shots on goal for the season.

This is all one way of saying, this front three hasn’t been good enough and it’s time for changes. Berry is a young player who hasn’t looked the part of a starting striker in MLS enough this year to keep the job. Etienne, after the fast start, has been inconsistent, a problem throughout his seven-year career. Yeboah’s highlights before coming to Columbus had fans excited but his indecisiveness in and around the penalty area in MLS has been a problem.

As for how to replace these players, Gyasi Zardes is the obvious switch for Berry, but he hasn’t exactly taken his chances this year either. Luis Diaz missed the last two games with a back injury, giving fewer options on the wing, and he too is inconsistent. Alexandru Matan could be an option on the wing but he wasn’t even able to dominate in MLS NEXT Pro when playing for Crew 2 recently.

While the Black & Gold should have gotten more results this year, the fact is they didn’t and this front three is the main culprit. If there aren’t answers on the roster to turn things around, Columbus may have to make do until the transfer window opens this summer and look to make another change or two.

It’s time for Josh Williams

Since helping the Crew win MLS Cup in 2020 alongside Jonathan Mensah, Williams hasn’t been available enough due to injuries to be the factor he was two seasons ago. But after picking up another injury in the preseason, Williams is back and fully healthy, having started a game for Crew 2 and returned off the bench for the first team with 30 minutes to play on Saturday.

A healthy Williams needs to be on the field for the Black & Gold. While Milos Degenek has shown flashes of the quality the Australian international has, there are too many lapses in concentration happening for the newcomer at this point. And while some of that can be attributed to adjusting to a new league coming off a short offseason, it’s costing Columbus points.

At 34, the Crew likely cannot count on Williams to be ready every week, but can use the center back now. He still has the ability to play at this level and his leadership is something the team is missing. Williams bleeds black and gold and Columbus need some of that right now. Mistakes that have cost this team points this year — specifically the late goals against the San Jose Earthquakes or the lack of effort on Orlando’s first goal — don’t happen with Williams on the field because he keeps things organized and holds his teammates accountable.

Like with Yeboah, the Black & Gold need Degenek to start playing up to his transfer value. But right now the Crew needs points more and a healthy Williams can help in that department, at least on the defensive end. Field has not yet become a fortress for Columbus

The Black & Gold opened Field early last July. Since then, the Crew has gone 10-6-2, including 2-2 this season, at the club’s new downtown stadium. While that is more wins than losses, it’s not a good enough record to be among the best in the league.

The recipe for success in MLS has long been the same: win at home, get results as often as possible on the road. Given that the Black & Gold don’t always get the road result, home games become that much more important. To put this another way, over the last five seasons, the MLS Cup champion has averaged just under 11 wins and fewer than two losses at home in their winning season.

It’s unclear why Columbus hasn’t had the same success at Field that it did near the end of the club’s time at Historic Crew Stadium. Last year, home losses were put on adjusting to a new stadium, and all that comes with it, midseason, as well as a slew of injuries. But this year, the players are familiar with their stomping grounds and the Crew is healthy. And it’s not as if the crowd isn’t backing the team, as the last two home losses have come in front of vocally supportive supporters.

If the Black & Gold are going to get back to the MLS Cup playoffs and make a run like they did in 2020, it will require a reverse in fortunate at home after a slow start in 2022.