For the fourth time in five games this season, the Columbus Crew went on the road on Saturday and came back with a point. The Crew earned a back-and-forth 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution after taking an early lead, giving up that lead and falling behind in the second half and scoring late before holding on for the tie.
It was an interesting game for the Black & Gold, who showed some very good play at times but also struggled doing some simple things at others. It was also a game that really could have gone either way, but settled for a split.
Because of how the game played out, there was plenty to take away. Let’s take a look at what we learned.
Versatility is key for the Crew
One of the major storylines coming into the 2022 season was the move of Pedro Santos from a winger position to left back. He has quickly proven that there should have been no questions about his ability to play that role, as Santos has been arguably the best left back in Major League Soccer to start the year.
In recent games, Columbus has changed from its normal 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3. This has yielded results with a least a point in each game. In doing this, central midfielder James Igbekeme moved out to the left wing and performed admirably in a role he doesn’t traditionally play. Playmaker Lucas Zelarayan has also come off the bench and seen time playing the No. 9 role.
These were all signs of the versatility of the team, something needed for a group to be successful. But on Saturday, the Black & Gold saw maybe the most versatility.
This began when moments before kick off, winger Derrick Etienne Jr. was told he was going to play right back due to a tight hamstring for starter Marlon Hairston. Hairston was only slated to start due to an injury to Steven Moreria. While the fullback role isn’t that much different than a winger in the way the Crew plays, Etienne did have to adjust to being further up the pitch to being on the backline.
Etienne had a mixed performance. While he did register two assists, and two good ones, both goals were created on his side of the field. The second, it could be argued, is more on lazy play from Luis Diaz, but Etienne was still involved.
All in all, however, Etienne was able to step into a role he doesn’t play often at a moment’s notice and play at least serviceable on the road. This continues a trend of players doing something possibly out of their comfort zone for the betterment of the team.
Oh, there are multiple goal scorers on this team
In the last two games, the Black & Gold have scored five goals after going four MLS matches without finding the back of the net. None of those goals were scored by Columbus’ leading goal scorer, Lucas Zelarayan, and each was scored by a different player.
While watching Zelarayan score is typically a thing of beauty, it is better to see the scoring spread around after the hot start to the year for the Argentine. Last week against D.C. United, it was a Santos free kick and great finishes by Etienne (playing on the left wing) and central midfielder Darlington Nagbe. On Saturday, it was two forwards who did the scoring, Miguel Berry in the first half and substitute Erik Hurtado with the late equalizer. Both of these goals came from similar runs, starting off the back of a defender and cutting across at the right moment with a composed finish.
Until the summer when the Black & Gold plan to sign a Designated Player striker, the goal scoring is going to have to be spread around. While Zelarayan can score with the best of them, there have been too many games where the Crew is overly reliant on the No. 10. The team needs other players to chip in here and there. Seeing Santos, Etienne and Nagbe find their scoring strikes last week was good and it was even better to watch forwards do what they're paid to do in this game.
If Columbus is going to continue to get points, goals will continue to have to come from all over the field. At least until there is a striker who can reliably score goals.
Did the Crew just become road warriors?
There has been a lot of discussion since Caleb Porter took over as head coach about the Black & Gold’s record away from home. In 2019, Columbus won just four games away from MAPFRE Stadium. In 2020, on the way to winning the MLS Cup in a strange year, Porter’s side didn’t win a single away game. Last year, the Crew won just three times outside of Columbus.
So far this year, the Black & Gold still have not won away from home, but, as mentioned above, the team has four draws in five games on the road. That’s already nearly one-fourth of the way to the total points New York City FC, last year’s MLS Cup winners, had away from Yankee Stadium.
There will certainly be people that aren’t happy with draws, especially ones like Saturday’s that come from winning positions. Others will point out that Columbus has already lost twice at Lower.com Field and must make up those points on the road. These are both fair, but ultimately getting a point on the road in any MLS game is a job well done.
So far this season, the Crew has shown a fight on the road, coming from behind three times to get results. The only loss for the Black & Gold away from home came to the Philadelphia Union, a team currently sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference, and it could be argued Columbus outplayed the Union that day.
There are certainly things to work on for the Crew when not at Lower.com Field, and even when the team is, but this group is getting results away from home, which is a step in the right direction.