Entering Saturday’s Columbus Crew match, the story surrounding the Black & Gold was if the team had turned a corner after a three-match losing streak. Columbus had a tough opponent to prove it against with the 2021 Supporters’ Shield winning New England Revolution on the road. After going up 1-0 halfway through the first half, two second half goals by the Revolution almost put the Crew out. Fortunately, a late goal earned a point in a 2-2 draw.
Injuries were the storyline before the match as starting right Marlon Hairston pulled up injured before the first kick. This made matters worse considering Hairston started because of Steven Moreira’s thigh injury.
This moved led to starting winger Derrick Etienne Jr. moving to defense. It was Etienne’s first start at the right fullback position since April 8, 2021, when the Crew traveled south to play Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16.
Once the match began, Columbus’ plan mirrored the team’s tactics of two weeks ago in the away trip to face Sporting Kansas City. The Black & Gold were happy to allow possession, sit back and wait for offensive chances.
In the first 25 minutes, the plan worked. The Crew didn’t allow any goals from New England, although the Revolution had 64.7 percent possession. It was the visitors with the opportunities. In the 10th minute, forward Miguel Berry sent in a shot, but it went above the crossbar.
The Black & Gold had their first good chance of the opening half four minutes later off of a throw-in play. Fullback Pedro Santos threw the ball in, Berry played the dummy and midfielder Darlington Nagbe charged into the penalty box with winger Yaw Yeboah tapping the ball to the midfielder. Nagbe went one-on-one with New England goalkeeper Matt Turner and sent a shot into the gut of the future Arsenal keeper.
Yeboah entered the match in place of Etienne, and in the 23rd minute it looked like Yeboah was the next player to miss time. Yeboah went in for a tackle down the right sideline, and fell to the ground from pressure from the New England midfield. The winger landed on his wrist, and held it, as the referee stopped the match. Fortunately for the Black & Gold, Yeboah stayed in the match.
Four minutes later, the Crew broke through with the opening goal. Santos charged down the left sideline of the field, almost lost the ball to two Revolution defenders, but stuck with the play. After recovering from almost losing possession, the fullback continued his run in the Columbus offensive half, sending in a perfect pass to the right corner of the penalty area to Etienne when the Haitian winger sent a low cross into the box, and Berry put the pass into the back of the net.
Columbus finished out the half, keeping New England to one shot and no shots on target.
At the half, head coach Caleb Porter made one change take Berry out for midfielder Lucas Zelarayán, who moved into the False 9 position. It was Zelarayán’s first full half of soccer since the Crew’s 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on April 16.
In the 51st minute, the Black & Gold almost gave the lead away. The Revolution sent a pass into the penalty area, which Nagbe stopped. Instead of getting rid of the ball, Nagbe and center back Jonathan Mensah watched the ball. Mensah cleared the ball away, but it went across the face of goal, giving New England a corner. The Revolution almost caught Columbus off guard when they took it quickly, with Room stopping a ball on the far post.
The Revolution applied pressure in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Outside of the Crew's mistake that didn’t turn into a goal, New England pushed to equalize. It was the defense of Mensah and fellow center back Josh Williams who stood strong in the penalty area, each stopping attempts with their heads.
Revolution coach Bruce Arena brought former Crew midfielder Emmanuel Boateng and MLS veteran forward Jozy Altidore in to try and create more offense and convert passes into the penalty area.
Columbus almost doubled the lead in the 69th minute when Zelarayán found Etienne on the counter, with plenty of space in front of the winger to attack the goal. Etienne went to goal but never appeared to have eyes on net. Instead, Etienne sent the ball to his left to the New England defense. It’s a goal that the Crew needed.
In the 70th minute, Boateng made an immediate impact, sending a pass to fullback Dejuan Jones, who slotted a shot under the legs of Room, putting the Revolution even at 1-1.
Porter asked Etienne to add a lot more miles on his boots minutes before the kickoff, going from winger to fullback. Etienne played strong, but in the 82nd minute, it was the right side of the defense that hurt Columbus. Etienne did well to keep a pass from getting through the Crew backline, but substitute Luís Diaz wasn’t in the area to get the Etienne deflection, leading to New England midfielder Sebastian Lletget grabbing possession and sending a cross to forward Adam Buksa who sent a header past the stretched arms or Room for a 2-1 lead.
It was an unexpected source in forward Erik Hurtado that put the Crew level. Scoring his first goal for the Black & Gold’s on a second assist by Etienne. It came as the Crew went on the attack and Zelarayán moved back to the No. 10 role.
Another goal-inducing mistake
The Crew’s season is highlighted with down moments and Saturday’s match is no different. Columbus' failure at getting back on defense almost cost two points. In a match where the defense was the order of the day, tired legs came back and hurt the Black & Gold.
Perfection isn’t expected from any team, but another correctable mistake led to more frustration for a team that has a year full of similar moments.
Zelarayán approaching 90
Following Zelarayán’s injury on March 20 against the New York Red Bulls, the Crew gave the midfielder the week off to get back to action. That knee injury never fully healed and after three matches of ineffectiveness for Zelarayán, he dropped from the starting 11 to recover. Since then, the Crew has been slower to bring the playmaker back.
Zelarayán went from not playing against Sporting Kansas City to 20 minutes against D.C. United last weekend and 45 minutes on Saturday. Zelarayán’s role was different in this game, but he looked fresher than in weeks past. He worked well in transition, leaping to head long passes to teammates and find outlets.
The road for the Black & Gold doesn’t get easier. Columbus goes from facing the 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners to the 2021 MLS Cup winners, traveling to the Big Apple to face New York City FC.