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What We Learned: Crew vs. LAFC

There were plenty more takeaways from yet another home loss for Columbus.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It took several hours after the scheduled kick off time but the Columbus Crew did play a game on Saturday. Thanks to multiple weather delays, the Black & Gold had to wait before kicking off against LAFC at Field and perhaps the team wishes the game hadn’t happened.

The Crew fell 2-0 to the visiting LA side, giving up two second half goals. While it could be argued — and was by head coach Caleb Porter — that Columbus was the better black and gold team in the game, the result saw LAFC head home with three points while the Crew lost for the fifth time in 13 games in 2022.

As we’ve said before, there’s plenty to take away from a loss, so let’s get into what we learned from this disappointing defeat.

The Crew needs Darlington Nagbe to play at his best

If Black & Gold fans look back at this game, they will remember Nagbe’s two giveaways that led directly to LAFC’s two goals in this match. That is fair as Nagbe is often praised for how well he does in possession, so when he loses the ball, especially when it leads to big chances the other way, it stands out.

However, there were also moments in this game where Nagbe popped up near the top of the penalty box, getting involved in the offense. Early in the first half, he made a nice pass to start an attack and then made a decisive run into the box. While the ball didn’t come to him, it’s a reminder that Nagbe isn’t just a possession player, but also can be a dangerous attacking option.

The Crew needs more of this from the team’s No. 6. In addition to his ability to fire goal of the year candidates, Nagbe can be a creator and get in good spots. The problem is, he doesn’t do that enough. Picking his moments to make an impact is usually fine for Nagbe, but on a team devoid of goals, like Columbus is at the moment with no firepower up front, someone beside Lucas Zelarayan has to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and make something happen.

Zelarayan has been criticized at times for trying to do too much, but Nagbe should get the opposite criticism for not doing enough. It is apparent when he does make runs forward and looks to be dangerous what he can do, but other times he is sitting too far back, taking his time to get forward and not helping his team in attack. Given that he is a more dangerous offensive central midfielder than his counterpart Artur, the Ohio native must step up his game on the offensive side more consistently until the Crew finds new attacking pieces. Otherwise, the Black & Gold are wasting talent and money only asking Nagbe to use some of the many skills he possesses.

Yaw Yeboah might be rounding into form

When Columbus signed Yaw Yeboah in early January, the Ghanaian winger was billed as an exciting, young attacking option. Throughout much of his first season with the club, he has been anything but with one assist and four shots on target through 12 matches. But Saturday showed signs that Yeboah is starting to settle in and play close to the level expected of him.

Yes, Yeboah had a goal taken off the board for a very tight offside call early in the second half that could have changed the complexion of the game. That, in itself, was good to see and hopefully is an indicator that more finishes will come from Yeboah. But the winger was also very active offensively throughout the match, combining with teammates and getting in good spots.

As Porter has pointed out throughout the year when discussing some of the new players for the Crew, it takes time for guys to adjust to a new league, especially one as physically demanding as MLS. Coming from Poland, this was a big change for Yeboah and it’s been obvious that he’s had a difficult time adjusting.

But if Yeboah can play like the more confident and composed player he was against LAFC, this could certainly be a positive for the Black & Gold attack, especially when another offensive piece is added in the summer. If he cannot and he continues to play as he did in his first 11 matches in Columbus, this may turn out to be a very disappointing signing for the Crew.

It’s time to let someone else take indirect set pieces

Zelarayan is good at many things and is certainly considered a dead ball specialist in MLS with the way he can score from a direct free kick, but his service when the ball isn’t in a place to take a shot on goal leaves something to be desired. This is specifically obvious on corner kicks.

So far this season, the Black & Gold have taken 64 corners, which is about middle of the pack in MLS. Zelarayan has taken the vast majority of those corners, yet none of his three assists so far this year have come from these plays. While not finding a goal from a corner, or any indirect set piece, isn’t all on the taker, Zelarayan is often not getting the ball into dangerous areas on these plays, or finding Columbus’ most lethal players.

Given that Pedro Santos has proven in the past to be more than adequate taking corners and set pieces, and given that he is a more natural crosser of the ball given he plays on the wide areas of the pitch, it stands to reason that he should be given a shot at taking these set pieces that won’t be directly shot. Because the Crew can’t find goals consistently through the team’s attacking players, these set pieces become even more valuable and Santos is more likely to find the head of Jonathan Mensah or Josh Williams for a good opportunity than Zelarayan.

It’s also worth pointing out that, other than maybe Nagbe, there may not be a more feared player with a ball coming out to the top of the penalty box than Zelarayan. If a ball from a corner kick or set piece is knocked out, the Argentine has a pretty good chance of scoring, increasing the team’s overall odds of finding a goal, something that has been in short supply of late.

The seat is heating up for Caleb Porter

There has been a quick reaction by some Crew fans to the inconsistent start to 2022 and many have called for the Black & Gold’s fourth-year head coach to be relieved of his duties. The team has not made any public stance on Porter’s status after going 3-5-4 to begin the season.

It is likely that Porter will be given time to turn things around, especially because so many of the team’s issues stem from an inability to score goals consistently and that can be fixed with an expected summer signing of a Designated Player striker. But after another home loss, the team’s third already in six games at Field, it’s hard to imagine that thoughts haven’t begun within the Columbus front office about what life after Porter might be like and that may come sooner than expected if results don’t turn around quickly as the schedule begins to get a bit easier for the Crew.