On Saturday, the Columbus Crew and their supporters celebrated “Soccer for All,” a league-wide initiative to stress that the sport welcomes all regardless of gender, sexual orientation or religion. Head coach Caleb Porter had to use the same soccer for all mentality in lining up, with nine players on the injury list. Porter started five players who didn’t start the year on the starting 11. In a sludge of a match, Columbus gives up an early second half goal after capitalizing late in the first, for a 1-1 draw.
Before the match, the first of two tifos on the evening was displayed. A large, three panel, tifo using the “We Love Ya!” supporter chant with an LGBTQIA+ pride flag emanating from the top of a rendering of Lower.com Field. Crew supporters had something to love from the first 45 minutes too, but it took some time to get there.
The first half was muddy for both sides. Charlotte FC, an expansion team who hasn’t won a game on the road and replaced their coach on June 1. The visitors sat back, and tried their chances with long passes and counter attacks. Only once did it challenge the home side, but goalkeeper and captain on the evening Eloy Room made a quick reaction save on the post to keep the match at 0-0.
Offensively for the Crew, they had chances but mainly trying to send in crosses. On the end of each was a Charlotte defender. Their best chances came off Charlotte mistakes. In the 37th minute, forward Miguel Berry intercepted a poor back pass and found fellow forward Erik Hurtado.
Hurtado tried to cross his defender, but wasn’t as successful as he was in Atlanta three weeks ago, but put the Crew up four minutes later. Instead of a poor backpass this time, it was a strong first touch by visiting goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.
The ball bounced off Kahlina’s boot to a charging Hurtado. The forward scored his third goal of the season, and second in two straight matches, to put Columbus up one going into the half.
Before the start of the second half, a second tifo was unveiled. This time, a Juneteenth banner depicting a banana kit-clad player striking a soccer ball. Unfortunately for the Crew, it was Charlotte who struck first in the 50th minute.
Off a deflection in the penalty area, winger Andre Shinyashiki drilled the ball into left side of the net without a chance at saving it by Room. With the match level, the Charlotte pace slowed but Columbus found opportunities.
Columbus’ best moment in the early part of the second half came in the 58th minute. The Crew won the ball off an interception and Hurtado ran down the field to counter. Running side-by-side with center back Guzman Corujo, Hurtado fell to the grass. The contact with Corujo was minimal, but Hurtado was the last man before Kahlina. No whistle blew and after referee Silviu Petrescu put his hand to his ear for a VAR check, nothing else came.
Less than a minute later, Hurtado went into the book with a yellow card tackle on Corujo who, after receiving treatment, didn’t want to leave the field. Hurtado appeared frustrated before the tackle, leading to increased tension on the field and Michael Bradley-esque boos for Corujo for the remainder of the contest.
Another tough refereeing call came in the 84th minute. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. turned to dribble to the side of the penalty area and was brought down. Again, no whistle and after a brief VAR check in his earpiece, Petrescu continued the match.
Porter brought in a bevy of offensive-minded players, but Columbus failed to register a shot on goal and Charlotte and Columbus ended the match with a 1-1 draw.
Difficult Night for Berry
While it took the team time to gel after a few weeks off and with a new lineup, Berry appeared to overthink his moves on the evening. While the forward had energy and put himself into plays to contribute, he didn’t let plays come his way.
A key example came in the first half, as a cross came to the right side of the penalty area, Berry tracked from the middle of the penalty area all the way to the edge and intercepted a pass meant for fullback Steven Moreira. Berry tracked further back and sent in a cross that went past the penalty area and out for a goal kick.
Berry was substituted in the 69th minute of the match for midfielder Kevin Molino, who returned from a 2021 ACL tear.
Crew 2 Debuts
Joining Molino on the field for the Crew were two unexpected names. Well, unexpected for anyone not watching the MLS NEXT Pro development league side Crew 2. With Columbus tied at one, Porter brought in forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, who leads the MLS NEXT Pro league with nine goals in 10 matches.
Fellow Crew 2 player Mo Farsi joined Russell-Rowe in the 90th minute. The Canadian youth international suited up to join Luis Diaz and Russell-Rowe but ended up not making it onto the field initially, instead coming in six minutes later
With a healthy Crew roster, and soon-to-be signing of Cucho Hernández, it may be a rare opportunity for the forward to play for the senior team.
Columbus heads out for a two-match road stretch, starting with a late 10:00 p.m. ET kickoff against Real Salt Lake on June 25.