The Columbus Crew’s Saturday match against New York City FC included a lot of adjustments. The Black & Gold traveled to New York City the day of the game due to heavy fog in the tri-state area and their starting 11 included changes. Columbus’ dynamic midfielder Lucas Zelarayán returned from injury but was deployed on the wing.
These adjustments didn’t lead to positive results and defensive lapses hurt the traveling side as the Crew lost 3-0 to the defending MLS Cup champions.
From kickoff, it was the home side with the advantage. The Black & Gold worked on adjusting to the smaller dimensions of the pitch and New York found a way to go ahead. In the ninth minute, midfielder Talles Magno dribbled around the Columbus defense, took a shot that went between the legs of Columbus defender Jonathan Mensah and past goalkeeper Eloy Room for the early 1-0 lead.
The Crew began to find the team’s footing after going down. The Black & Gold increased possession and had their moments to attack and earned set pieces. Columbus was fouled eight times and took six corner kicks in the opening half, but the team’s effectiveness didn’t follow the number of chances. However, there were signs of getting into better areas, even if NYCFC did whatever they could to slow them down.
In the 18th minute, on a cross from the left to the right sideline, New York City midfielder Maxi Moralez threw both of his hands up in the air to stop the cross, earning a yellow card. Moralez’s obvious yellow card was because Columbus found space on the right-hand side for Derrick Etienne Jr.
Etienne and forward Miguel Berry almost tied the match in the 28th minute. The Crew got through the New York City defense and Etienne found Berry running parallel to the top of the penalty area. Berry took a shot to the lower right corner of the goal but it was deflected for a corner.
Six minutes later, Etienne created the best chance of the first half. The Crew winger made a hesitation play, waiting for a tackle but held possession. As the NYCFC defender went to ground, Etienne rounded towards the penalty area and sent a pass to an open James Igbekeme. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, the shot went too high for it to challenge New York.
Columbus’ defense held City to only one more shot on goal in the half but went into the locker room down 1-0.
Head coach Caleb Porter’s team talk at halftime included a change of formation. In the 56th minute, Igbekeme came out for winger Luís Diaz and Zelarayàn returned to his No. 10 role of facilitating the offense. Moments after that substitution, the mountain for Columbus got higher.
New York City forward Valentín Castellanos stood at midfield on a Crew attacking set piece, behind Mensah and center back Josh Williams, waiting for his chance. Moralez found him for a breakaway attempt and Castellanos, with the Crew defense chasing, chipped the ball over the head of Room to go up 2-0.
With the substitution, Zelarayàn had a chance to pull one back in the 66th minute. Outside of the penalty area, the Argentine took his rare space to shoot. Although the shot went wide of the post, it gave a glimmer of hope for Porter and the Crew.
No hope came. NYCFC maintained the two-goal deficit despite a more forward-attacking Black & Gold team giving up more possession. Midfielder Darlington Nagbe cleared a shot off the goal line after the Columbus defense stopped two shots on goal from scrums in the penalty area.
Zelarayàn had a chance with a free kick in a dangerous area and forward Erik Hurtado’s substitution provided energy in the penalty area, but nothing led to a come back.
Porter kept the 4-3-3 formation that has done well for the Crew over the team’s three-match undefeated streak heading into this match. With that, Zelarayàn moved on the wing.
There’s a chance it was part returning from injury or the early goal allowed, but Zelarayàn didn’t look comfortable in the winger position. New York City stacked his area of the field, and with the Pidgeons out-possessing Columbus, there wasn’t much time or space for the star midfielder to work.
Once Zelarayàn returned to his No. 10 in the second half, his chances increased. Also, he appeared more comfortable on the field. Does that mean his time at the wing is over? Not necessarily, but if that’s going to happen again some more minutes in the position are needed. The times that Zelarayàn did have time, the right side of the field was open to exploit.
After a string of matches where mistakes led to opponent goals, it was defensive lapses that did Columbus in on Saturday. In the first half, Talles Magno dribbled around Williams and shot through Mensah. The chance to stop the shot was there but not taken.
In the second half, Castellanos was left unmarked. That’s a problem considering Castellanos won the 2021 MLS Golden Boot and already has scored four in a game this year.
Porter brought Williams back into the fold to help solidify a defense where new signing Miloš Degenek sustained an injury after a string of tough results.
Columbus returns home for the team’s only home match of May and the opponent doesn’t get easier. The Crew welcomes LAFC to Lower.com Field, a side that comes in with 23 points and at the top of the Western Conference and early Supporters’ Shield standings.
That game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be followed by the Crew 2 game against Toronto FC II at 7:30 p.m. ET.