The Columbus Crew began a stretch of three MLS matches in seven days with a late-night start in Sandy, Utah. Real Salt Lake welcomed a Crew side that brought back starters in center back Jonathan Mensah and fullback Pedro Santos and debuted a Crew Academy product in midfielder Sean Zawadzki. The Black & Gold hadn’t won a match at Rio Tinto Stadium since 2011, and that streak continued following a 0-0 draw.
While Columbus welcomed back two key leaders on the field, the team was still without midfielders Lucas Zelarayán and Artur, along with winger Yaw Yeboah. Joining the trio of injuries were two new names in winger Derrick Etienne Jr. and a goal scorer in two straight matches in striker Erik Hurtado.
With those issues in mind, the Black & Gold entered the first of two straight away matches with defense in mind. The Crew started Darlington Nagbe, Aidan Morris and Zawadzki in the midfield, with Zawadzki sitting further back almost as a third center back at times. A defensive game plan was obvious.
Real Salt Lake, including former Crew fan favorite Justin Meram, had 53 percent of the first half possession. The Black & Gold sat further back and tried their chances on the counter but the home side had two good looks in the first 45 minutes.
Salt Lake captain Rubio Rubín gave the Columbus backline the first scare in the eighth minute when center back Miloš Degenek slipped, giving Rubín a chance at goal. Mensah slid over to make the shot difficult, but Rubín still shot, sending a rocket against the post.
The Crew countered with chances. In the 15th minute, fullback Steven Moreira was gifted space in the offensive half of the field. He made a diagonal run towards the penalty area and as he passed to forward Miguel Berry, but the striker anticipated incorrectly and ran away from a pass that would’ve put the forward in a great chance to shoot on target.
In the 21st minute, Real almost struck off a cross into the penalty area. Defender Justen Glad got in behind the Black & Gold backline and headed a shot that went into the side netting.
Two minutes later, Santos almost gifted supporters with a miraculous moment. From 15 yards outside of the penalty area, Santos sent a ball in that hit the crossbar, causing goalkeeper Zac MacMath to leap to keep the shot from dipping into the goal.
Columbus had a scary moment in the 31st minute, with another potential injury concern. Winger Luis Díaz was tackled to the ground running down the right sideline. Díaz, who wore a cast on his arm for a wrist injury sustained against LAFC on May 21, landed on the same wrist and laid on the ground writhing in pain. Díaz remained in the match thankfully after a depleted bench that didn’t include Etienne, Yeboah and Kevin Molino (stomach illness).
Entering the second half, the Crew worked to avoid an early second half dip. The Black & Gold held the first 15 minutes and almost got ahead after Santos sent in a curling cross off a bounce to a diving James Igbekeme.
Once again, Black & Gold head coach Caleb Porter had to turn to Crew 2, bringing in forward Jacen Russell-Rowe in the 60th minutes and Mo Farsi in the 68th minute, both of who, played their second matches for the first team.
Before either could get their footing, Salt Lake had the team’s first big chance of the second half. Forward Sergio Córdova timed a long pass perfectly and ran behind Degenek to go one-on-one with Eloy Room. The goalkeeper charged Córdova and made a match-saving stop with his glove.
Following that chance, and Columbus pushing more on offense, Real had more chances but couldn’t capitalize. Neither team was effective offensively on the evening and ultimately two tired teams looked to settle for a 0-0 draw.
Crew 2 options used
Crew 2 gives the first team the option to play development players in MLS matches. Loans are allowed for four matches but only two matches on the field.
In the 60th and 68th minutes respectively, Porter brought in forward Russell-Rowe and fullback Farsi. Each played well in their minutes. Farsi pressed and ran down passes, sending in a dangerous cross and earning Columbus a late corner. Russell-Rowe’s movement and defensive play in the offensive half of the field was also effective, although he didn’t have a chance to show anything in the penalty area.
After tonight, neither player can play again for the first team without signing a contract in MLS.
Zawadzki debut impresses
The starting 11 for the Crew included a moment a player will never forget. Ohioan and Black & Gold Academy product Sean Zawadzki didn’t only make his MLS debut but also started the match. Zawadzki showed composure with a couple tough passes, but had a sound performance in his first match.
Early in the match, Zawadzki looked comfortable. In the first 20 minutes, Zawadzki pressured changes in possession on defense and tallied his first midfield interception. That comfort was something Columbus hasn’t had before Crew 2 started this year. If not for the development team in the same building as the first team, Zawadzki and his Crew 2 teammates play in meaningful, competitive, matches instead of scrimmages or trying to earn their spot at practice.
Zawadzki and his two Crew 2 teammates came in without rust and made an impact.
The Crew continues its stretch of match congestion on Wednesday when the teams head to BMO Field to take o Toronto FC.