Wednesday was supposed to be the second match in seven days for the Columbus Crew. Instead, after storms postponed their trip to Charlotte FC on Saturday, the Black & Gold entered Lower.com Field with an empty injury report and eyes on a 10th straight match without a defeat, with CF Montréal in town. After leading since the 14th minute, Columbus gave up the match-tying and match-losing goal in a 2-1 defeat.
The midweek match had extra fanfare for a few reasons. Montréal, who finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in 2021, entered the match in third place, creating a good test for Columbus. Also, it was former Crew forward, and 2015 MLS Most Valuable Player finalist, Kei Kamara’s first match at Lower.com Field. Icing on the cake was the Black & Gold celebrating 150 regular season appearances for center back and captain Jonathan Mensah.
The Crew needed Mensah quickly after the opening kick. Montréal, with Kamara starting as forward for only the ninth time in 2022, went on the offensive. Within seconds, the visitors were in the Black & Gold’s defensive penalty area but Columbus’ defense closed in to stop the short attack. It was a theme of the first half, for the Crew.
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Montréal found space playing behind fullback Pedro Santos and the left side of the Black & Gold defense. The Canadian side had dangerous crosses that challenged goalkeeper Eloy Room and the Columbus defense, but always with the home team stopping it at the final moment.
For Montréal’s chances, it was still the Crew’s match to control. Possession in the first 45 went 49.1 percent for Columbus but it felt like the Black & Gold created the best opportunities.
In the ninth minute, it was winger Derrick Etienne Jr. who almost put Columbus up. Forward Cucho Hernández, who patrolled all parts of the offensive side of the field, passed into the penalty area to center back Josh Williams. The defender used is chest to bring the ball down to the feet of Etienne who skied the shot over the crossbar, but the Crew didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity.
In the 14th minute, it was midfielder Lucas Zelarayán, who had been part of eight of the last nine Black & Gold goals, who put Columbus on the scoreboard. At the top of the right side of the penalty area, Zelarayán shot low, deflected off the Montréal defense and past goalkeeper Sebastian Breza. It was the Crew’s first goal at home since the 2-0 Hell is Real Derby win against FC Cincinnati on July 17.
Jjust two minutes after, the Black & Gold almost added a second, this time through Hernández. Going on the break, Hernández received the ball, brought it down to his feet and took a shot in the penalty area, at close range. Breza made an impressive glove save to keep the deficit at one for Montréal.
Another storyline of the night wasn’t about any team or player moment. It was the weather. With the humidity, it felt close to 100 degrees in Ohio’s capital city, and it showed on the field. Up a goal, Columbus looked more lethargic in the final 15 minutes of the first half, even after the hydration break for both teams. Winger Luis Díaz, who made multiple runs up the right sideline in the first half, was hunched over after a late half run, needing more time than usual to catch his breath.
Even so, Montréal continued for an equalizer, and it was Joaquín Torres leading the charge. The forward was the player getting in behind the Crew’s backline the most. While Santos made a big stop on the speedy attacker in the 22nd minute, Torres got the better of the battle.
Before the half, Torres showed his speed, effort and willingness to keep any attack going. Torres timed a run perfectly and charged down the center of the field. Santos got a boot to the ball, that would usually stop a play, but not with Torres. The Argentinian pursued the ball in the penalty area and threw a shot on goal, albeit from a tough angle that Room saved cleanly.
Unfortunately, as the sun went down, the poor weather turned up. But not before Montréal pushed for an equalizer. Head coach Caleb Porter brought on fresh legs in the second half, replacing Williams for center back Miloš Degenek. The Australian defender hadn’t started since July 3, against the Philadelphia Union.
Columbus needed everything from Degenek and the Crew defense but not before two solid attempts from Hernández to increase the lead. Within a minute of each other, Hernández took a shot that shook the post and then a second deflected by his own teammate, keeping Montréal down only one goal.
Before a 74th minute lightning delay put a pause on the match, it was Montréal storming the Columbus defensive penalty area. The first chance came 10 minutes prior. At midfield, midfielder Romell Quioto rushed Mensah, who fell to the ground. Quioto rushed up field, with Degenek running parallel to the attacker and closing off passing lanes. That subtle defensive move, instead of rushing the player, forced an easy save for Room, stopping the first of three opportunities for Montréal.
The second and third came from Kamara. In the 68th minute, the striker volleyed a shot that went wide right of the post. Moments before the match was delayed, he had Montréal’s best chance when the ball found the former Crew forward at the far post.
Kamara went to ground to shoot, but went inches off the right post, bouncing off the advertisement board behind the goal and landing on the back of the net, almost appearing to go in.
Columbus and Montréal returned to play at 10:41 p.m. ET to finish the final 17 minutes. In that return to play, Artur shined in his return. In the span of three minutes, Artur had three tackles that turned possession to the Crew, who was pinned back by the visitors, into three chances on goal.
The first ended with a strong final touch, but the second, including a pinpoint pass by midfield substitute James Igbekeme, found Hernández rushing down the field. Even with the defense next to the forward, his speed and strength held possession and hit final shot required another big save by Breza. The final of the three ended with a Hernández move to lse the defense and a poor final shot.
When the midfield of Columbus wasn’t stopping Montréal momentum, they were stopping chances. Columbus looked content with waiting for counter attacking chances, sitting back for the remaining minutes.
It was the sitting back that came back to hurt the Crew. In the 88th minute, Kamara leapt on a corner kick to put the match level. After the goal, Columbus couldn’t find an opportunity. Then, with only a minute to play, Joel Waterman put the match away, scoring a goal in the penalty area after the Crew allowed multiple passes through the box.
All night the Crew defense looked up for the Montréal challenge, but the writing was on the wall in the final minutes of the match. The Black & Gold allowed multiple passes through the penalty box where the visitors couldn’t connect.
The goals shocked the supporters in the stands, but its no surprise considering how Columbus sat back before the storm delay, and in its return. Content with a counter attack, Montréal put the full force into the attack and made the Crew pay.
Before Wednesday’s match, a first came for the Crew in 2022. The team’s injury report was empty. The final name to leave it was Brazilian midfielder Artur, who suffered a lower leg fracture on May 28.
Artur returned in the 73rd minute, just before the match paused. He replaced Zelarayán and played alongside midfielder Aidan Morris, who’s played in Artur’s place since the injury. Morris continued his strong play on Wednesday, creating conversations around the future of the midfield position.
The opponents don’t get any easier this weekend for the Crew. Columbus goes from playing the third-place team in the Eastern Conference to the second-place side. New York City FC comes to Columbus on a seven-match unbeaten run.
On May 14, at Yankee Stadium, Columbus lost to New York City 2-0. Now they face a side that’s fully healthy with Hernández, adding intrigue to the matchup.