The Columbus Crew played the team’s worst and best halves of soccer on Saturday against the Chicago Fire. Only four days later, Columbus had to play again, this time with a rivalry match at home looming this Sunday, against FC Cincinnati. A match that began with a tough first half featured promise with two key substitutions in the second half.
After a tough first half, a flurry of four goals came in the second, but poor Columbus defending lost the Black & Gold all three points, settling for a 2-2 draw at D.C. United.
To start the match, the Crew played a different, but familiar formation. Head coach Caleb Porter opted to start in a 4-3-3 formation that had been used in past matches this season and earned road results. From the first kick, it looked like it had the chance to pay off early.
In the first two minutes of the match, it was the visitors of Audi Field that challenged offensively. The Crew struggled to make the final passes in tight areas with midfielder Lucas Zelarayán starting the match on the bench and D.C. quickly became the aggressors.
United midfielder Taxiarchis Fountas almost got the home side on the board in the seventh minute. The Greek international received a deflected ball at his feet 10 yards from the goal, unchallenged. Taxiarchis shot the ball far over the crossbar, starting a first half trend of United shooting that ended with nine goals and no goals.
Their next came two minutes later when fullback Andy Najar had a clear header on goal go wide of the post. Columbus managed one shot the whole first half, in the 16th minute, but fullback Steven Moreira who ran diagonal across the midfield and shot right at Rafael Romo from the top of the penalty area.
Speaking of goalkeepers, Eloy Room had one moment in the first 45 where he had to make a stand. In the 31st minute, Fountas got the ball off a poor pass by the Crew and had a clear run on goal, behind center back Jalil Anibaba who started for Jonathan Mensah who was suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Room went to the ground in front of the charging attacking midfielder and deflected his shot straight into the air, stopping United’s only shot on goal all half.
After a Saturday where wingers Derrick Etienne Jr. and Luis Díaz scored and assisted on two goals respectively, they lacked the voracity in the first half. Forward Erik Hurtado started too, but played 45 minutes without a strong chance, except one that came back.
In the 40th minute, Etienne received a pass on the left corner of the penalty area and sent a pass to Hurtado who shot the ball against the back of the net. The goal was ruled off immediately for offside, although it was closer than first glance with Etienne appearing to time the run well.
From the start of the second half, Porter brought in his two offensive stars in Zelarayán an Cucho Hernández. With three matches in eight days, and neither star at 100 percent fitness with Hernández recently joining the team and Zelarayán returning from injury.
Their introduction, and a change to Porter’s normal 4-2-3-1 formation, made Columbus look more dangerous in the first 10 minutes of the second half than they did for the entirety of the first half.
Movements became more fluid and passes more creative with the almost $20 million worth of talent on the field. In the 60th minute, Zelarayán found Hernández on a break down the field, but the ball took an odd bounce in front of the new forward. Just two minutes later they made up for it.
At the top of the 18-yard-box, Zelarayán earned his seventh assist of the season sending a pass to the left corner of the penalty area to Hernández. The forward didn’t waste getting the ball to his right foot and shooting into the top right corner of the net, putting Columbus up 1-0.
The Crew almost lost that lead in the 70th minute. Fountas had a chance, running into the penalty area but had a strong first touch. Room ran up to attempt to clear the ball, but came in late and made contact with Fountas. It was tough to see initially, but after the referee and line judge discussed it and said no penalty kick for United, a VAR review changed the result, giving D.C. a chance to tie.
Fountas, who was United’s main point of any offense on the night to that point, stepped up to shoot and hit the shot wide left of the post, keeping the match in the Black & Gold’s favor. Room didn’t move on the penalty kick either way, but still had a big save in him.
Colummbjs fullback Pedro Santos gave United a free kick just outside of the penalty area in the 75th minute. On the kick, taken by former Crew forward Ola Kamara, Room dove to his right and cleared it away, but D.C. would level soon after.
In the 80th, Fountas got on the end of a cross, getting behind Anibaba to tap it into the goal in his 10th goal in 10 starts since joining United Hernández responded quickly.
Less than a minute later, Hernández had a diving header go past Romo to put Columbus back up, not letting D.C. have much time to enjoy a potential draw. Eventually though, a tough night of Crew defending came back to hurt the Black & Gold.
In the second minute of second half stoppage time, the ball landed to the feet of the 2021 MLS Golden Boot winner Kamara. After a VAR review of a potential foul on Anibaba in the goal’s build-up was confirmed as not a foul, United again tied it up and stole two points away from the Crew in a 2-2 draw.
Luck running out
All season, Columbus has been on the wrong end of bad luck, and made a karma withdrawal tonight against D.C. United had 16 shots, three on target and a missed penalty kick before the final moments of the match.
The final goal from Kamara was warranted for a United side that had the better of chances and a lax Crew defense at times. Black & Gold supporters waited for goals while the team had strong defense. Now that the goals are coming, it isn’t time for the defense to take a back seat and hope luck is on their side.
Hernández goal scoring diversity
For all intents and purposes, the Crew going into halftime tied 0-0 wasn’t a bad thing. D.C. had chances that they couldn’t convert but bringing in Hernández and Zelarayán was the game changer of gamechangers.
Hernández now has three goals in two matches, and each a different way. After Saturday, where Hernández had a break on goal and chipped over the keeper, he added a long-distance curled shot from the corner of the penalty area and a diving header to his Crew highlight reel.
It’s early in his time with the Crew, but the signing is already paying dividends after two matches played.
The first Hell is Real Derby looms. On Sunday, two sides that are in the discussion for a playoff spot play their first meaningful MLS regular season match of the derby, with past years having FC Cincinnati nowhere close to contention.