It was a dark and stormy night in Columbus, Ohio, but after a delay of almost an hour and a half, the Columbus Crew welcomed Atlanta United to Lower.com Field. It was the 11th regular season matchup between the two sides, with every previous edition ending with one team beating the other. That storyline ended, when an eventful second half of soccer led to a 2-2 draw.
The Crew and Atlanta playing in inclement weather is nothing new. Although the two teams have only played each other across five seasons, previous editions were played in monsoon-like conditions. Fortunately for the players and supporters in attendance, poor weather cleared before kickoff, allowing a dry start to the match.
The field’s draining made for a great playing surface, but the Black & Gold looked water logged compared to the visitors. After an initial spell of possession, the Five Stripes were the aggressors. Even though they played a midweek match, appeared the fresher side and Columbus was lackadaisical.
United made it difficult for the Crew to move and the Black & Gold had a mild counter-press, turning into early and often chances for the away side. Goalkeeper Eloy Room was put to work early, making saves in the 11th and 13th minutes, but couldn’t stop an outstanding goal in the 21st.
Midfielder Santiago Sosa received a deflected ball from the penalty area, and almost got into a traffic jam with two other Atlanta players. With no Columbus defenders around, Sosa took a rip from 20 yards out and with teammates in his field of vision, Room was too late seeing the Atlanta goal go into the net.
It got worse for the Crew in the 27th minute when fullback Pedro Santos, who played well early in the match, went out with a hamstring injury. Entering in his place was rookie Will Sands, who played over 60 minutes in a first-team game for the first time since May 28, when Santos got injured in the away match against Atlanta United.
The Black & Gold were in desperate need for halftime. Columbus looked disheveled and couldn’t seem to find a way through the Atlanta defense. Outside of four corners that never saw past a United defender, the Crew entered halftime down 1-0.
Columbus’ final 45 minutes began with a dark rain cloud over the pitch. With the change in weather, the Black & Gold were hoping for a change in mentality coming out of the locker room.
Initially, it was much of the same for the Crew. The Black & Gold struggled getting out of their defensive half, and Room added more saves to his four earned in the first 45 minutes. For 20 minutes it was much of the same for the home side, until a second half substitution helped create the moment that put the Crew back in the match.
Midfielder Kevin Molino, who hasn’t started since returning from a torn ACL injury, entered the match for winger Derrick Etienne Jr. Off Atlanta possession, the Black & Gold went on the break in the 66th minute, and after only coming onto the field a few minutes before, Molino held up the play at midfield and found a sprinting Luis Díaz down the right sideline. On the break, Díaz sent a cross the waiting feet of forward Cucho Hernández, who put the match level.
Columbus wasn’t done.
The rookie Sands played a big role six minutes later in putting the Crew into the lead. Running down the left sideline, Sands won a ball on defense, dribbled around the Atlanta defense and found Hernández who dribbled through the penalty area, scoring his eighth goal in eight matches in gold, but it didn’t last.
In five minutes, Atlanta tied things up, this time, on a corner kick. Fullback Juan José Purata sent the ball into the back corner of the net, leveling the match with only 10 minutes to go.
Each side pressured in the final moments of the match, and Room made two saves, eight in total on the night, in the final minute of extra time, but it wasn’t enough for either side to find a match winner.
Set Pieces Set Pieces Set Pieces
This season, set pieces have plagued Columbus, on defense. Sunday night though, another set piece issue was evident on offense.
The Crew allowed the match to go level in the 77th minute on poor set piece defending. Offensively though, there’s no bite on their corner kicks. The Black & Gold only had four but each of them didn’t go further than the first defender. For a portion of the match, it was all the chances the Crew had too.
Columbus’ attack can be dangerous, but getting on the right page on corner kicks offensively could make them even more dangerous.
Lucho to Cucho Connection
For the third time this in eight matches, Luis “Lucho” Díaz and Hernández connected to create a goal. Hernández scored his eighth goal in eight matches and Díaz created his fifth assist on the season, his new career high for the Black & Gold with nine matches still remaining.
The formidable duo has formed a relationship quickly. As quick as the two are on the field. After two seasons where Díaz has had space to run but couldn’t finish, he’s found an outlet in Hernández. Although Díaz is shooting less than usual, it’s because of better decision making.
In a match that felt like the Crew had nothing to gain, the two turned a one-sided match into a competition.
The Crew has nine matches left in the 2022 MLS tegular season, and their next one has the most weight to it, before playoff scenarios begin to playout. Columbus travels two hours down Interstate-71, past the Hell is Real sign for a matchup against FC Cincinnati.
A wrinkle in the matchup is the absence of Artur. With his sixth yellow card of the season, the Brazilian midfielder will miss the trip.
FC Cincy sits outside of a playoff spot with eight matches left on the team’s schedule. A rivalry match that’s already circled on a team’s calendar gets a few more times around when it could be the difference between postseason soccer and an early end to the season.
Columbus and Cincinnati kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET at TQL Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 27.