It took five games but the Columbus Crew is unbeaten no longer. The Black & Gold suffered their first loss of the 2022 season on Saturday, dropping a 1-0 result to Nashville SC. It was also the first time this year that the Crew was unable to get maximum points at home.
The game played out exactly as the visitors wanted it to. Nashville grabbed a goal just inside the opening half an hour and from there was content to sit back and rely on the team’s stout defending to get at least a result. Despite dominating the shots and possession statistics, Columbus was not able to find an equalizer as it had in three of the four previous games.
The old saying is you can learn more from a loss than a win and the Black & Gold have plenty of time to right the ship if they do just that. Let’s look at the biggest takeaways from the game.
The Crew’s forwards aren’t doing their main job
There’s been plenty of discussions this year about Columbus’ forwards and who should start between Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes. After head coach Caleb Porter went with Berry in the first four games of the season, Zardes got his first start of the year against Nashville. The issue is that neither player is doing what he’s on the field to do, which is score goals.
Both Berry and Zardes have one goal on the season and they came in the opening two games of the year. Since scoring a deflected goal in the opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Berry has five shots, one of which has been on goal. Zardes has gotten in more dangerous positions and should have scored at least one of his three efforts since putting the ball in the net against the San Jose Earthquakes — presumably why he got the start against Nashville — but has lacked his finishing boots.
On Saturday, the Black & Gold knew they would have to be clinical against a talented Nashville defense that doesn’t give up many opportunities. The Crew had a couple of chances to level the match in the second half but failed to do so. While the team has demonstrated an ability to score goals from a variety of positions this year, that task should fall more to the forwards than any other player and when the goals aren’t coming — Columbus now has just three goals in the last three matches after scoring seven in the first two — it is the strikers who will be blamed.
Four of the team’s 10 goals have come from playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, who was questionable coming into this game but started and was dangerous, especially with a set piece chance that went narrowly wide. While it’s okay to be reliant on Zelarayan, Porter wants his team to be able to score goals when the Argentine either isn’t on the field or isn’t at his best and, aside from the late counter attack against the New York Red Bulls last game, that isn’t happening.
Given that this was Zardes’ first start of the year, it’s understandable that he hasn’t found his rhythm to start the season. Berry appears to be a player who, after a breakout 2021 season, is still figuring out how to play when the opponent has scouted him and knows what he likes to do on the field.
One of these two needs to get going quickly and a pecking order needs to be established. Otherwise, there will be other games like Saturday where teams are content to sit back without the fear of a Columbus striker punishing them.
There are too many mistakes happening at the back
Coming into the Nashville game, the Black & Gold had not allowed a goal from the run of play. It was a nice stat to discuss, and it has been discussed plenty, and showed that this team is strong defensively. But that is no longer the case after Alex Muyl’s 28th minute header.
While it was improbable the Crew was going to go the whole season without allowing a goal from open play, this finish by Muyl was indicative of the other goals Columbus has given up. Teams aren’t pulling the Black & Gold apart, but rather capitalizing on mistakes. If you’re keeping track at home, errors at the back have led to seven points dropped so far this year for the Crew.
In this game, it was Pedro Santos, who had been so good through the first four games at his new left back spot. The converted winger simply slipped at the top of the six-yard box when backtracking ofter Taylor Washington‘s cross. This left Muyl wide open at the back post for a header that kissed off the opposite post and into the net for the game winning goal.
Players will fall down over the course of a game. Throughout a season, some of those falls will provide the opponent a chance, so it’s hard to blame Santos for that, especially considering how well he’s played at left back. But on this play, he does get caught a bit too far inside, possibly not aware of where Muyl is, and when he attempts to step back while tracking the cross is when he loses his footing and goes to the ground.
This mistake is more forgivable than some of the others the Black & Gold have committed — too much ball-watching on set pieces for example — but it remains a mistake that cost the Crew again. If the players can cut back on these mistakes, as there seems to be at least one a game right now, or not make them in crucial moments, Columbus’ defensive numbers will better match how the group has played overall and the points will better reflect where this team is talent-wise.
Lower.com Field knows how to throw a party
We haven’t yet reached the one-year anniversary of the second stadium in Black & Gold history, but Lower.com Field has proven to be quite a venue for games. On Saturday, not only did the stadium host the match between the Crew and Nashville, but also allowed for Federico Higuain to be honored for what he accomplished during his eight years in Columbus.
Before the match, Higuain signed his one-day contract on the plaza outside the stadium so he could officially retire as a Crew player before signing autographs for fans. There was a sea of black and gold waiting to say goodbye and thank you to the man who scored 55 goals and contributed and 63 assists in Columbus. The party then moved inside when Higuain was recognized before the match on the Lower.com Field field and his kids got to take part in a ceremonial kickoff. Given the way the game turned out, Higuain’s appearance received the loudest cheers of the day.
The new stadium has been a breath of fresh air for the franchise after the quick deterioration of Historic Crew Stadium. There will be plenty more memories made at Lower.com Field, but honoring Higuain will be one that stands out for some time to Crew fans.
Now, the team needs to change its Circle of Honor rules to let Higuain in.