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Games Grades: Crew at Real Salt Lake

A look at how the Black & Gold players performed in Saturday’s late-night draw in Utah.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew battled Real Salt Lake, the second-place team in Major League Soccer’s standings, to a scoreless draw on the road on Saturday night. The match included some stout defensive play from the Crew and an impressive performance in goal.

What makes this road point particularly impressive was that the Black & Gold earned a tie — something only one other team had done this year at Rio Tinto Stadium, with six starters out due to injury. This motley Crew rose to the challenge and earned a tough road point.

Here’s how we graded the individual performances from Columbus.

Starters

Eloy Room (8.5) – Room has continued to be a stout wall in goal and has been effective in organizing an ever-changing backline. As the defense’s one constant this season, Room has kept the Crew together through the changes and his leadership was a big part of the shutout, even more than his ability between the sticks.

Steven Moreira (7.0) – Moreira played well on the night, despite earning himself a yellow card on a late challenge on Justin Meram. The right contributed an interception, a clearance and a tackle defensively and helped push the ball up the right side when the Crew did decide to attack up the right. His 90 percent pass accuracy helped move the ball into the midfield and connected through the central midfielders.

Milos Degenek (6.5) – Degenek seems to be gelling with the team as he continues to improve in his first year in MLS. The center back ended up leading the team with seven clearances. While he did let the ball get behind him on at least three occasions throughout the night, he was consistently able to recover and work to ensure Salt Lake failed to capitalize on any opportunities. These defensive lapses, however, need to be improved upon if Degenek is going to secure a consistent starting spot.

Jonathan Mensah (7.5) – It was good for the team to have its captain back on the field after a scary injury and Mensah did not miss a beat in his return. Strong defensively, Mensah made several good challenges and helped organize both the backline and the defensively-minded team overall. The center back played safe defensively with five clearances and made himself a target on corner kicks, although he was unable to finish his best opportunity of the night.

Pedro Santos (7.5) – Despite only playing 60 minutes in his return from injury, Santos made an outsized impact defensively, anchoring the team and continuing to show his talent at left back. He was especially impactful in pushing the ball forward into the offensive zone. His shot from 45 yards out nearly went in and showed his willingness to attack out of the back. At the same time, Santos led all players on the field with four tackles on the night and continues to be one of the best left backs in MLS.

Sean Zawadzki (7.0) – In his MLS debut, Zawadzki impressed both offensively and defensively playing the No. 6 role in central midfield. Porter called the MLS Homegrown “extremely comfortable” in his role and it showed in his ability to step right into challenges against the talented RSL offense. His 89.4 percent accuracy on 47 passes helped the team keep possession and connected the defense through into the attacking third.

Darlington Nagbe (6.5) – Nagbe had another fine performance for the team, keeping possession and continuing to show why he is one of the best in the league at escaping out of pressure. This was especially valuable in helping the Crew reset and breathe after several extended spells of possession for Real. However, Nagbe continues to be at his best when he attacks and could have done more to help the team find a late winner.

Aidan Morris (7.0) – Morris continues to be the emotional heart of the team in every game he plays. Immediately recognizable by the intensity, the central midfielder runs at the opposition with tenacity and effort and his abilities were all on display. While he led the team with four fouls, that was more indicative of his willingness to press attackers than being overly aggressive and he avoided a yellow card, which helped him maintain that aggression throughout the night. In a statistic that grows more and more consequential, the Crew has still yet to lose a game when Morris starts this year.

Luis Diaz (7.0) – Diaz finally had a game where he was able to display his game-changing speed, working the sidelines effectively to spread Salt Lake out and get the ball into the final third. The winger was fouled a team-high six times in his 67 minutes and he and his clubbed hand seemed to be constantly picking himself off the field. This was the only way RSL could stop Diaz, and his work led to several opportunities for the Black & Gold.

James Igbekeme (6.0) – Igbekeme had the best chance for the team on the night, with a diving attempt where he was unable to redirect the ball into the back of the net. Playing on the wing again, Igbekeme’s work rate was impressive as he led the team with three shots in the game and recorded 42 touches, more than Berry and Diaz combined.

Miguel Berry (5.0) – While Berry’s positioning continues to improve, it's hard to overlook no shots from the team’s striker despite 67 minutes of play. It’s worth noting that he did get into several useful opportunities. Columbus needs a target man up front and Berry has not demonstrated this season an ability to be that. It will be curious to see what his minutes look like once Cucho Hernandez enters the starting lineup.

Substitutes

William Sands (7.0) – Sands came on in the 60th minute as a defensive substitute for Santos and acquitted himself competently. He recorded one clearance for the Black & Gold and helped prevent a late goal from RSL.

Jacen Russell-Rowe (5.5) – Russell-Rose came on again for Columbus as a substitute for Berry. While he was also unable to record a shot, he had some good attacking movement for the team, and it was valuable to get the Crew 2 striker additional first-team minutes.

Mo Farsi (6.0) – The 67th minute substitute for Diaz failed to make much of an impact in the game. While he didn’t make any mistakes, the Crew 2 loanee was unable to push the pace for the Crew or do much in the offensive end but held his own against Salt Lake throughout.

Alexandru Matan (N/A) – While Matan certainly deserved minutes after impressive play for Crew 2, his 93rd minute substitution did not provide him a chance to do much of anything for the Crew.

Josh Williams (N/A) – Also a 93rd minute, stoppage time substitute, Williams didn’t record a touch as he helped secure the draw in the dying minutes of the second half.

Head Coach

Caleb Porter (7.0) – Earning points in his last three games has been important for Porter, who was able to successfully rotate his injury-depleted squad and get a result on the road against a sellout crowd and a team that is one point off the league lead. However, as Porter said, “We play to win every single game we play,” and the Crew is going to need more wins to climb out of 11th place in the East. As the Massive Report wrote, expectations are high for the team and the clock is ticking on Porter now that he has signed Hernandez. If Columbus is unable to break the seal that has covered the opposition’s goal this season, Porter will fully own that responsibility.