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Games Grades: Crew vs. FC Cincinnati

See how the Black & Gold players performed win against their rivals.

Sam Fahmi - Massive Report

It was an electric night at Lower.com Field, as the Columbus Crew celebrated a Hell is Real Derby win against FC Cincinnati with a 2-0 victory. The Black & Gold moved into MLS Cup playoff positioning for the first time in months thanks to goals in either half and some impressive play from the team’s stars.

It was a much-needed win for a Columbus side that is on the rise, now unbeaten in eight games, the longest streak for the club since 2018. Let’s take a look at how the Crew performed in this game.

Starters

Eloy Room (8.0) – Room had a sensational start to the game, making a diving kick save that prevented Cincinnati from an early opening goal. The goalkeeper was solid throughout the rest of the game and while he only had to make one additional save, his positioning and coordination with the Black & Gold backline prevented the Orange and Blue from getting on the scoreboard.

Pedro Santos (7.0) – Santos has continued to look strong in the left back position since Columbus returned to a 4-2-3-1 formation. On Sunday night, he combined with teammates to help create several dangerous attacks. The Portuguese was solid on the Crew backline and effective in maintaining the team’s high possession rate throughout the game

Jonathan Mensah (7.0) – Mensah played well in his return from a suspension. The center back led the team with three clearances and prevented Cincinnati from creating many opportunities on the counter attack.

Josh Williams (7.5) – Williams, who has been criticized at times for some defensive lapses, played perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday. Strong against what has been a prolific Cincinnati attack (albeit missing a key player), Williams was up for the challenge and contributed five interceptions and a goal-line block for the Black & Gold. He was especially useful in winning the long clearances the visitors tried to use to relieve the Columbus pressure.

Steven Moreira (7.0) – Morieira was more involved in the Crew’s attack than he was on Wednesday night at D.C. United, making a number of forward runs from his right back spot, both wide and centrally. Defensively, Moreira was also able to track back and helped limit the Cincinnati attack, although in the opening minutes, his poor marking of Alvaro Barreal, almost lead to Cincinnati scoring.

Darlington Nagbe (7.0) – Nagbe has played well all season, and the Black & Gold’s MLS All-Star selection fared no differently on Sunday night. Against Columbus’ rival, Nagbe helped control the game and possession, helping to circulate the ball and keep it in the Crew’s offensive half. His 90.7 percent passing rate contributed to the team’s 58 percent possession overall in the match.

Aidan Morris (8.0) – While not named the Man of the Match officially, Morris did as much as anyone to ensure the Crew was victorious in the Hell is Real Derby. His tracking runs helped snuff out the Orange and Blue’s ability to counter attack. A number of times, Cincinnati might have had a free run toward the goal before Morris made long runs back and another one of his team-leading four tackles.

Derrick Etienne Jr. (7.5) – Etienne played well in transition and had several impressive displays of skill against the Cincinnati backline. His movement to allow for passing options from his teammates helped take pressure off of others and provided them more space and better opportunities.

Lucas Zelarayán (8.0) – Zelarayán has played magnificent soccer since returning from injury and getting fully healthy, exemplified by his one goal and five assists in the past three games. On Sunday night, Zelarayán had the tactical freedom to move all over the field, picking out his spots and integrating himself into the wing play along both sides. This freedom helped the Black & Gold’s best facilitator, facilitate more of the action, and that was rewarded both with his assist through the free kick and in drawing and scoring the penalty kick.

Luis Diaz (7.0) – This was Diaz’s best game as a starter this season. His interplay on the counter attack should have led to at least one goal and showed how his game-changing speed can lead to opportunities. Diaz’s struggles making the right decision in front of goal were apparent several times though, and he needs to be better about converting those opportunities.

Cucho Hernandez (8.5) – Hernández is on a tear to begin his MLS career. His fourth goal in three games is impressive, but what is most exciting for Columbus fans is the way he completely changes how the Crew. The team is more dangerous with Hernández on the field, and even after his substitution, the rest of the team played with an intensity that produced scoring opportunities.

Substitutes

Erik Hurtado (7.0) – Hurtado looked dangerous in his 30 minutes of game action, coming on for Hernández. The forward’s movement and ability to receive the ball and make an effective play toward goal was on clear display, and it was his pass and movement into the penalty box that eventually led to the penalty kick and the Black & Gold taking a two-goal lead.

James Igbekeme (7.0) – Igbekeme only played 20 minutes coming on in for Diaz, but the Columbus utilityman made an impact in his short time on the field. He was able to combine into the attack and also contributed two tackles to keep Cincinnati from finding a lifeline in the closing minutes.

Milos Degenek (N/A) – Degenek was a defensive substitution for the Crew while trying to hold a lead and only played five minutes before the final whistle, not making an impact, although it was good to see the Australian international back on the field after an injury.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (8.0) – Porter made the right decision to return the Crew to the 4-2-3-1 formation in this match with close to his first-choice lineup available. While his organizational flexibility will continue to pay dividends over the rest of the season, the Black & Gold have clearly looked dangerous and defensively sound in their preferred formation. With the team returning to full health, and Hernandez continuing to build fitness, Porter has his team where it needs to be heading into a stretch of three out of the next four games at home.