On Saturday, the Columbus Crew saw a three-match undefeated streak come to an end in a 2-0 loss at New York City FC. Earning points in three straight matches was a positive, but as the Crew’s season reached double-digit MLS matches played, there’s an obvious trend of mistakes leading to goals. Outside of two or three matches this season, the Black & Gold’s most dangerous opponent has been themselves.
Mistakes being a problem is not a groundbreaking statement but in the MLS, where the margins between winning and losing are razor thin, especially on the road, these errors make a significant difference.
Saturday was the most recent example for the Crew.
On Columbus’ first goal, a missed tackle by fullback Steven Moreira allowed NYCFC’s Talles Magno an early finish from the top of the penalty box. Tackles get missed all the time in soccer but this was after a series of missed chances for the Black & Gold to clear the ball. While that ninth-minute goal did reduce the Crew’s chances to roll out the team’s full game plan, the second half goal conceded added to the list of mistakes this season.
With a free kick in Columbus’ offensive half, Moreira, who returned after missing last week’s match with a thigh injury, opted to play the ball quickly and short. Unfortunately for the Crew, the speed at which the set piece took place took most of the other Black & Gold players by surprise.
“We shouldn’t be playing short,” said head coach Caleb Porter of the play this week. “That’s a great moment for us to run our bigs (center backs) in and to serve it in the box.”
Midfielder Lucas Zelarayan received the ball but had few outlets available for a pass and was quickly dispossessed. This happened as center backs Jonathan Mensah or Josh Williams both made their way up field, thinking they were needed in the offensive attack on the free kick. City midfielder Maximiliano Moralez sent a booming pass to a wide-open Valentin Castellanos, who was behind the two center backs but inside his team’s half and therefore onside creating a breakaway chip shot on goal and increasing the New York City lead to 2-0.
The Pigeons scored the goal within a minute of Columbus making a substitution to add more to the attack. That substitution then became more important and simultaneously negated the plans received by that player at 1-0 down to fight back for a draw.
Before the loss to City, each of the three Crew defeats of the recent three-match losing streak featured a single mistake. Against Nashville SC, it was a slip by left back Pedro Santos. Away at the Philadelphia Union, it was goalkeeper Eloy Room dropping the ball into his own net. The final loss of the streak came on a poorly defended set piece.
Playing perfect soccer is a tough expectation throughout the course of a season, but having mistakes against playoff teams like Nashville, Philadelphia, Orlando and New York City means giving up goals. When the Black & Gold are scoring, it’s not against the best of MLS.
Against the New England Revolution the week prior, Columbus did score the first goal against a team that won the 2021 Supporters’ Shield with the most points in league history. With a lead though, a missed assignment and players not running back on defense turned a one-goal lead into a two-goal deficit. Without winger Derrick Etienne Jr. and backup forward Erik Hurtado’s late linkup, that would have been another disappointing result.
Porter admits that the Crew isn’t going to score goals at a high clip right now, as the front office works on acquiring a Designated Player at striker this summer. The Black & Gold have done well at getting into positions to score, but these defensive mistakes allow opponents to sit back with the lead or sit back when playing Columbus at Lower.com Field and wait for the team’s chance to pounce.
Without the Crew scoring regularly, defense is more important than ever. Not missing set piece assignments, situational awareness and having players in the spots they need to be in is even more costly. These mistakes frustrate not only supporters but the team too. To pull a positive out of this season, the players are by no means giving up on anything.
“Our guys were up for that game they were up for it,” said Porter about Saturday’s loss. “Our guys will be up for this (game Saturday against LAFC). We’ve got a good team playing a good team, like we’ve been playing. Our mindset will be to get something out of the game.”
The Black & Gold’s next test is arguably the best opponent they will face all season. Columbus welcomes MLS’s top team, sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield standings. to Lower.com Field on Saturday. To get an important win, the Crew will have to eliminate these mistakes.