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Games Grades: Crew at Chicago Fire

See how the Black & Gold players performed in a dramatic, come-from-behind victory at Soldier Field.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Here comes the Columbus Crew.

After an abysmal first half where the Black & Gold looked utterly befuddled by the hard pressing Chicago Fire, halftime tactics changes and four substitutions propelled Columbus to a comeback 3-2 win on the road.

The Crew is now unbeaten in the team’s last six games with three victories in that stretch. The Black & Gold sit just a single point below the MLS Cup playoff line with just under half the season to play.

Let’s take a look at home the Columbus players performed in this win in Chicago.

Starters

Eloy Room (6.5) – Room ended the game with three saves and two balls collected, all of them coming in the first half. His organization of the backline was challenged multiple times throughout the opening 45 minutes, particularly on set pieces. The Fire was repeatedly dangerous on both free kicks and corner kicks before ultimately converting a 28th minute corner into their opening goal. Room played reasonably well on Saturday despite the two goals allowed.

Pedro Santos (7.5) – Santos began the game as a wing back in the 3-5-2 formation, but this time with a new left center back behind him. The Portuguese continued to push forward and play aggressively throughout the opening half, but on the second goal of the match, he ended up being unable to get back to cover Chris Mueller who was unchallenged for the goal. Santos was better in the second half as he shifted to the left fullback position and he played a large role in solidifying a backline that had serious issues in the first half.

Jalil Anibaba (5.5) – Anibaba struggled to replace Milos Degenek, who was injured in training. He had several failed clearances that led to opportunities for Chicago and he was subbed off at halftime. While he did contribute an important block in the 21st minute on what would have been a sure opening goal for the Fire, Anibaba appeared uncomfortable working with his fellow defenders.

Josh Williams (6.0) - The entire backline for the Crew struggled on Saturday, particularly in the first half, to effectively clear the ball and prevent the Fire from stringing together opportunities. Williams was perhaps the most obvious culprit on the opening goal, as he clearly got beat by Chicago center back Rafael Czichos, who was able to outleap the Columbus center back and get a powerful header on to goal that was impossible for Room to save. Williams played adequately in the second half and ended up with seven clearances and both a tackle and an interception.

Jonathan Mensah (6.0) – The Ghanian center back had multiple missed clearances and several poor touches on Saturday that lead directly to opportunities for Chicago. He was a non-factor in working to prevent either of the Fire’s first half goals. While he contributed seven clearances overall, this was not his strongest performance from the captain.

Steven Moreira (7.0) – Moreira continued initially his role as a right wing back and spent much of the first half high up in the Fire’s half. Of the few opportunities that the Black & Gold did have in the initial 45 minutes of play, most of them were due to Moreira’s movement up the pitch. In the second half, Moreira moved into his normal fullback role in the second half and had a number of important clearances and interceptions that kept the pressure on the Fire and off the Crew.

Darlington Nagbe (7.0) – While Nagbe didn’t show up on the stat sheet, he played an important role for Columbus after the shift to the 4-2-3-1 formation, connecting defense to the attack. Initially playing centrally in the 3-5-2, there was a lot of pressure on Nagbe to play the final touch into the two forwards, and against the press of Chicago, he was not able to hold possession. In a more familiar role in the second half, Nagbe was able to play the link-up pass and then move into the attack to contribute in the final third.

Aiden Morris (7.5) – Morris’ intensity was demonstrated most clearly on the second Crew goal with an aggressive tackle at midfield which forced a Fire turnover and a Columbus throw. Morris showed that intensity all night, playing aggressively and didn’t back off of any challenge. He finished the night tied for the team lead with three interceptions and added another three tackles to boot.

Sean Zawadzki (6.5) – Zawadzki played 45 minutes on Saturday night, as he was substituted for Luis Diaz as part of the second half tactical shift. During his time, Zawadzki found things more difficult than he has in his previous performances, as he and his teammates struggled to break the Chicago press. His 78.3 percent pass completion rate on only 26 touches for the night was indicative of his struggles to command the midfield and establish possession for the Crew.

Lucas Zelarayán (7.5) – No Black & Gold player more directly exhibited the tale of two halves on Saturday night than Zelarayán. The Columbus No. 10 was anemic in the first half, struggling to find the ball, let alone make an impact. However, in the second half, Zelarayán played excellent, working well with the wingers to combine for the two Crew goals. He drew defenders to him on both goals and made the appropriate passes. While he appeared frustrated with his 80th minute substitution, Zelarayán was the first to celebrate off the bench after the go-ahead goal.

Jacen Russell-Rowe (6.5) – Russell-Rowe was ultimately overshadowed on Saturday night by the Black & Gold’s new striker. However, in his 62 minutes of play, there were some great movements off the ball that helped contribute to Columbus’ offensive efforts in the first half, and especially coming out in the second half.

Substitutes

Derrick Etienne Jr. (8.5) – The Crew was in desperate need of a spark coming out of the locker room at halftime and Etienne provide that. A brace in 45 minutes of play off the bench is impressive on any night, but especially after the way the Black & Gold were dominated throughout the first half at Soldier Field. Etienne’s vision and willingness to make the hard runs off the opponent's backline were rewarded twice, and the confidence and motivation were infectious throughout the rest of the team.

Luis Diaz (8.0) – It cannot be easy for any defender who has been running around for 45 minutes to suddenly have one of the fastest players in MLS come on the field. Diaz used his speed, tenacity and improved decision-making ability to torture Chicago’s Miguel Navarro for the entirety of the second half. His pass to assist on Etienne’s second goal was inch-perfect and showed a selfless willingness to make the extra pass. Diaz’s tenacity ultimately ended up with him taking an elbow to the face and forcing the Fire to finish the game with 10 men.

Cucho Hernandez (7.5) – In the 62nd minute, Hernandez made his much-anticipated debut for the Crew. While his game-winning goal was excellent and he showed brilliant vision on the field, it was clear that this is a player still getting accustomed to his new team. There were a couple of times that he was easily dispossessed and another where he was frustrated after he played a pass for Etienne that didn’t come off. Those miscommunications are typical of a player finding his footing on a new team and will be fixed on the training pitch. What is untrainable is the vision and decisiveness he showed in his chip and the way the entire team rallied around to celebrate his game-winning goal.

James Igbekembe (N/A) – Igbekeme was an interesting substitution in the 81st minute, as it occurred with the Black & Gold still searching for the game winner. He ended up finishing the game with only four touches and wasn’t a factor offensively or defensively in his short time on the pitch.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (7.0) – Porter deserves criticism for the lackluster way Columbus came out in the first 45 minutes of play in Chicago. He also deserves enormous credit for recognizing the issues with the formation, making the necessary changes and bringing on the right talent in the right positions that made the difference on Saturday night. Ultimately, soccer is a game of adjustments and there are few people in the business better at it than Porter.