The Columbus Crew is at the halfway point of the 2022 regular season. After 17 games, the Crew sits in 10th place in in the Eastern Conference and 20th overall in the Supporters’ Shield standings. The Black & Gold are three points below the MLS Cup playoff line with a game in hand when compared to most teams above them.
So far this year, Columbus has a record of 5-5-7 bringing the team’s point total to 22. In 2021, when the Crew missed the playoffs, the Black & Gold had a 6-6-5 record and sat on 24 points at the midseason mark.
Let’s take a look at how Columbus has gotten to this point in the season.
The Crew has scored 20 goals this season. Last season, the Black & Gold scored 19 goals at the midseason mark. Erik Hurtado, Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes — who was traded to the Colorado Rapids in late April — have combined for six goals from the forward position. Last season, Zardes and Berry combined for four goals at the forward position and managed for a total of 17 goals by the season’s end. Contributions from new Designated Player striker Cucho Hernandez will be critical for the Black & Gold to challenge for a playoff spot.
Playmaker Lucas Zelarayan got off to a blazing start in April, scoring four goals and earning him the MLS Player of the Month award. But since then, injuries have slowed his production down.
Zelarayan willed Columbus to multiple victories with his seven goals in the first half of the 2021 season, memorably taking New York City FC down twice from free kicks.
A return to full fitness, and having Hernandez in front of him, will give Crew fans hope that Zelarayan will return to his scoring and playmaking ways in the second half of the 2022 season.
Recently the Crew has changed the team’s formation to a 3-5-2 which head coach Caleb Porter has mentioned as a possibility when Hernandez is inserted into the starting lineup. This helps get the strengths of Columbus on the field with three center backs and a three-man central midfielder, but Zelarayan does not look fully comfortable in this formation, playing as a second forward.
A shift in the midfield, while still sticking to this look, could see Zelarayan back at the No. 10 behind two forwards with two No. 8s behind him. While this would put Zelarayan in a more comfortable position, it would remove a true No. 6 from the lineup, which might prove to be a liability defensively while helping offensively.
The 2022 season has seen an initial improvement to the winger position in goals scored. Derrick Etienne Jr. leads the group with three goals, equal to the three scored by wingers halfway through last season. Wingers have scored a total of four goals this season but a player at this position has not scored a goal since April 30 when Etienne scored against D.C. United.
Nagbe has scored three goals, more than what he scored all last season, and doubling his Columbus tally to six in three seasons. Center back Jonathan Mensah had his one goal against Atlanta, exactly as he did by the midseason point in the 2021 season.
One notable difference in the last two seasons is the lack of own goals scored for the Crew. In 2021, the Black & Gold scored by way of the other team three separate times, tying own goal for second-leading scorer halfway through the 2021 season. That has not been the case for Columbus this year.
The Crew has seen an increase in assists so far this season, showing that the Black & Gold can score more from open play than last year. In 2021, Columbus scored many goals from Zelarayan free kicks and own goals, lowering the number of assists to 11 by the midseason point when compared to this year.
In 2022 the Crew has 19 assists with Etienne leading the way with five. The winger position has led the way with six assists and five assists have come from the fullbacks. Etienne has started this year well, outpacing his goals and assists for all last year in half the season.
Goalkeeper Eloy Room has five clean sheets, 18 goals against and 50 saves in 2022 while playing every minute of the 2022 season. Last year, Room had five clean sheets, 18 goals against and 41 saves at the midpoint, while Evan Bush had one clean sheet, two goals against and one save halfway through the 2021 season.
The 2022 season has started out with similar stat lines from 2021, Black & Gold fans will hope that the signings of forwards Jacen Russell-Rowe and Hernandez will lead to more Columbus goals. Defensively, the Crew has again been stingy, but if the offense doesn’t get going with more goals, it is unlikely the season will end any differently than last season.