Leading into Saturday’s Columbus Crew match, there was excitement for the first doubleheader in Black & Gold history. What was originally a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff for the Black & Gold senior team and 7:00 p.m. ET kick for Crew 2, Columbus’ MLS NEXT Pro development league team, was aggressively changed by mother nature. After a 3-hour storm delay, and an additional hour after 2:34, the Crew kicked off their first match against Los Angeles Football Club at Lower.Com field. It was a match as disappointing as the weather, with LAFC winning 2-0.
Before the two four and 34 minutes delay, and directly after, the Black & Gold found promising link-up play between midfielder Lucas Zelarayàn and Steven Moreira. Columbus had space on the right side of the field and sent in crosses early in the match.
On the receiving end of them was winger Yaw Yeboah, who started over Derrick Etienne Jr. Yeboah had one great attempt from the Zelarayàn to Moreira work, in the 8th minute. The young Ghanaian received a pass near the goalkeeper’s area and the final shot required a save by goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.
Los Angeles had few moments, but caused some worries for the Crew defense. In the 13th minute, winger Kwadwo Opoku went on the break, requiring captain and center back Jonathan Mensah to make a stop. Luckily for head coach Caleb Porter’s side, there were more offensive moments than defensive.
In the 22nd minute, the smoke went off in the ends of Lower.Com Field for what appeared to be a goal by Yeboah. As supporters, much fewer than at the 3:30 scheduled start, celebrated the offside flag shot up. Half of Yeboah’s body was offside, causing the match to stay level halfway through the first half.
Columbus carried the offensive pressure, causing a flurry of LAFC fouls. LAFC had 12 in the first half alone, and after multiple discussions between referee Victor Rivas and the visitors, only two yellow cards were brandished. Both came in the final 10 minutes of the half for midfielder Kellyn Acosta and center back Sebastien Ibeagha.
A moment when the Crew didn’t get a foul for contact came in the 42nd minute. Zelarayàn ran parallel to the 18-yard-box, within a yard of the line, and received contact by the LAFC defense. No whistle was blown on what didn’t appear to be an egregious tackle, and Los Angeles went on the counter. Opoku ran dead center down the pitch, and Crew winger James Igbekeme pulled him back on the tackle, without a whistle for what looked like a punishable offense.
Defensively, the Crew played well, but made one small mistake in the 45th minute. Veteran Josh Williams slipped with possession and gave up the ball. Fortunately for Williams, the subsequent corner he created went far beyond a chance at goal and Columbus entered the locker room 0-0.
Returning for the second half was a different looking Los Angeles side. Midfielder Carlos Vela entered the match at the half, originally sitting for rest. LA had the first chances of the second half but Columbus held strong. Then, in the 58th minute, history repeated itself.
Yeboah again put the ball into the back of the net off a header to the middle of the penalty area by forward Miguel Berry. This time, the flag didn’t go up but an immediate VAR check by Rivas put the Crew back at zeros with LAFC, but not for long.
In the 61st minute, Vela made his presence known. Vela went at Williams, tackling the defender from behind and subsequently gaining possession in the Crew’s defensive penalty area. With space, Vela buried the ball under an approaching goalkeeper Eloy Room to go up 1-0.
A notable absence from the starting 11 was winger Derrick Etienne Jr. Before Los Angeles’ goal, Massive Report’s Pat Murphy shared that Etienne’s name off the team sheet was by design, for disciplinary reasons. However, Porter ended his punishment in the 68th minute, bringing Etienne in for Igbekeme.
As Porter readied two more offensive minded substitutes in Luís Diaz and Erik Hurtado, the Crew defense imploded. Initially, Williams and Room tangled up, allowing second half substitute Brian Rodríguez a shot that went just wide of the net. From a quick return to play, midfielder Darlington Nagbe lost possession and Jose Cifuentes made Columbus pay. After moving through the Columbus defense, shot into Williams and into the back of the net.
Hurtado and Diaz’s inclusion into the match did provide some spark. Diaz earned fouls from his speedy attacks down the sideline and Hurtado gave Columbus its best chance of the second half on a header that required a leaping save.
Even so, Columbus sent the few thousand supporters who stuck around home with a 0-2 loss.
Severe Defensive Struggle
Columbus played a great first half of defense. Even with LAFC getting chances on the counter, the Crew held strong. The second half took a turn for the worst.
It was defensive problems that caused both goals, with Williams losing possession and the backline and goalkeeper looking disorganized on the second goal. As Room pointed to his teammates and his teammates pointed back to him, the blame didn’t stop the goals from happening.
The performance reminded supporters that Columbus has a center back signing of Miloš Degenek, who hasn’t started since Columbus’ 0-2 loss to Orlando City on April 16.
Columbus had another night where there were chances. This means the Crew got into dangerous offensive areas but the final kick or pass couldn’t find the net. It looked a lot like Columbus’ three-match losing streak of early April.
There was a lot of Crew possession, a lot of shots but nothing to show for it. While they had three shots on goal, which shows a sign of improvement on the stat sheet, it doesn’t look or feel like it on the field.
Saturday’s loss created more of a yearning for the mystery Designated Player striker signing that’s promised this summer. Supporters are just hoping Columbus is close to a playoff fight when it finally happens.
The Crew has one more match before two weeks without a match, due to the international break. Fortunately for the Black & Gold, and supporters alike, it can’t be impacted by the elements. Columbus faces Atlanta United under the roof of Mercedes Benz Stadium.
It’s the first time the two Eastern Conference sides have met in 2022.