Saturday’s Columbus Crew match didn’t require much of a search to find a storyline, which is sometimes difficult with the new MLS schedule structure of Eastern Conference teams playing only a few Western Conference teams a year. The Crew traveled to Commerce City, Colorado, almost three months since Columbus traded 2020 MLS Cup champion Gyasi Zardes to the Colorado Rapids. In the end, a goal a piece for each team in the first half was all the goals in the 90, ending with a 1-1 draw.
A side story of the match was talks of altitude. Colorado plays in the Mile High State, creating a different environment than anywhere in the league. From the kickoff, the Crew kept the pressing gameplan and it turned into an early lead.
In the fifth minute, Columbus’ new forward Cucho Hernández waited for a cross from fullback Pedro Santos and pounced. Outside of the left side of the penalty area, Santos sent in a curling cross into the penalty area. On the far post, Hernández made contact, shooting it into the top of the net, going up 1-0.
The Black & Gold almost doubled that lead seven minutes later again with Hernández. After receiving his fair share of attention, attracting fouls like a magnet to metal, the forward received a pass from fullback Steven Moreira at the top of the penalty box. Left unmarked, Hernández looked like he didn’t know what to do with the breathing room and got his foot too deep under the ball, sending a shot high into the stands.
It was the Crew that kept that momentum 20 minutes into the match, with midfielder Lucas Zelarayán getting in his own shot that challenged the Rapids defense, but then Colorado went on the offensive.
In the 23rd minute, Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room made a pinpoint save on Zardes, with his glove. The rebound found its way back to Zardes who put the ball into the back of the net. Fortunately for the visitors, the initial pass to Zardes was just offside, calling the goal back and taking away Zardes’ storybook first match against his former side.
The middle portion of the first half was devoted to refereeing. The Crew had counter attacking chances off the Rapid’s increased offensive pressure, but the match didn’t flow with four yellow cards given in a 15-minute window.
Colorado’s Lucas Esteves received the first, after kicking winger Luis Díaz in the back of the foot after the speedy Costa Rican found space. Moments later, Bryan Acosta stomped the boot and shin of winger Derrick Etienne Jr., but didn’t receive a yellow, only a normal foul. Then it was Columbus who received a card matching the color of their kits on the night.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe, fresh off his MLS All-Star appearance, received one that looked like it came off minimal contact, much less than Acosta’s boot. Inconsistent calls and cards made for uncertainty on every whistle blown.
A call that didn’t have any debate came in the 40th minute. On a lobbing pass into the penalty box by Colorado, Moreira had an arm up that the ball landed on, turning into a penalty kick for the Rapids. Diego Rubio converted the 41st minute penalty kick, and the teams went into halftime tied 1-1.
Although Columbus entered the half with 54 percent of the possession, their energy waned and the Rapids outshot the Crew 9-7.
Entering the second half, Columbus tried to catch Colorado on the backfoot. From the kickoff, the Crew found Díaz running down the right side and within 15 seconds sent a pass into the box that wasn’t accurate enough to find Etienne. Less than a minute later, Zardes saw a pass go in front of him inside the Colorado offensive penalty area, but couldn’t get a boot on it.
The first half featured yellow cards, while the second half featured odd refereeing inconsistency. After a corner was turned into a goal kick, after the center referee admitted he called the wrong thing, Colorado’s center back Danny Wilson, already on a yellow, kick Díaz down to stop a run but didn’t receive a second on a clear yellow card offense.
Twenty minutes into the second half, the circumstances of the heat, altitude and officiating decisions created a match with no flow.
Columbus found their way into their offensive penalty area in the final 25 minutes, with Colorado turning into the side looking for counter attacking chances. Nothing came from any of the second half opportunities though, with both sides visibly exhausted after a hot night, in the 80s even with the sun down, made worse by the altitude.
Before the match could end though, there were red cards brandished, but not for any players. It was two Rapids assistants who grabbed the attention of the referee enough to be taken off the sideline.
All 22 players stayed on the field though, minus substitutions which came late for the Crew. Columbus settles for the 1-1 draw.
Zardes and Hernández
Saturday’s match showed how both strikers can be dangerous. Hernández’s fifth-minute goal showed evidence of why Columbus brought him in from overseas. On the Rapids side, Zardes showed that he’s still a starting caliber forward in MLS.
Even though he didn’t score a goal. He was in dangerous positions and could have been on the board if he wasn’t offside. It was a battle that lived up to the competition’s billing.
While the team and supporters all wanted three points, Columbus’ one point in Commerce City, Colorado means they’ve taken a point from all road matches since their 2-0 loss at Yankee Stadium, against New York City FC, on May 14.
That’s four matches where the Black & Gold didn’t leave the visiting locker room empty handed. Plus, the point means Columbus has secured points in 11 of 12 matches, with six draws and five wins.
Next week, the Crew returns home. The Black & Gold welcome Atlanta United to Lower.com Field in a Sunday 5:30 p.m. ET kickoff. It’s their final home match before the final Hell is Real Derby of the year, when the team travels to FC Cincinnati on Aug. 27.