It was a shocker at Lower.com Field on Wednesday night. The Columbus Crew led CF Montreal from the 14th minute on, went through a second straight lightning delay and gave up two goals in the final six minutes of the match (including stoppage) to drop a 2-1 result at home.
The loss, which will certainly be tough to swallow for the Crew, brings the Black & Gold’s nine-match unbeaten run to a screeching halt. It also drops Columbus’ record at Lower.com Field this year to 4-4-3, which is not good enough for a team that has high ambitions and continuously a good crowd behind them.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what we learned from a heartbreaker of a loss for the Crew.
The Black & Gold struggle to close out games
When the halftime whistle blew at Lower.com Field with Columbus up 1-0, the home fans likely felt pretty good about the situation. The Crew had played well throughout most of the first half and arguably should have been up by more.
But there was still a sneaky suspicion that the team with the lead hadn’t done enough over the first 45 minutes. Montreal, who played a game on Saturday, had a mostly second-choice roster on the field and still created chances. The visitors had been dangerous enough that the fans watching back in Canada probably felt okay with the situation halfway through the match.
Low and behold, Montreal came out in the second half and started to establish more control of the game. While there weren’t a ton of clear-cut chances for CFMTL, the Black & Gold certainly didn’t put the game away, despite opportunities, mostly on the break. Then came the weather delay, more missed chances by Columbus — credit Montreal goalkeeper Sebastian Breza for a huge stop — when the game resumed and two late goals to take home three points.
This would be less concerning if this situation hadn’t happened before. Unfortunately for the Crew, it has.
Last month, the Black & Gold twice gave up second half leads to D.C. United, one of the worst teams in MLS, and had to settle for a 2-2 draw on the road. There was a similar feeling in that match that the opponent was going to score.
Columbus has the best record in MLS under head coach Caleb Porter when scoring the first goal of a game, yet recently it has felt that the second goal is equally as important. In a 2-0 win against FC Cincinnati four days after the draw at D.C., the Crew’s Ohio rivals also started to creep back into the match in the second half after going into the locker room down 1-0. On that night, a Lucas Zelarayan penalty kick got the second goal.
To be a top-four team, which is the Black & Gold’s stated goal, in the Eastern Conference by the year’s end and make another MLS Cup run, Columbus has to be better at seeing out close games.
The Crew’s over-reliance on Cucho Hernandez
Hernandez’s short time with the Black & Gold has been interesting. Even before he arrived in Columbus, he was dubbed as the hero, the goal scorer that would save a team that struggled to score. That was the case in his first three games, with four goals in less than 90 minutes.
While Hernadez hasn’t scored in his last two matches, he has still been very good and continues to prove that the Crew did the right thing by making him a record signing. But it can’t just be Hernandez offensively and he can’t always be relied on to be that hero, even though he’s proven he can do it.
Yes, Zelarayan scored the opening goal of the match and is another major factor in the Black & Gold’s offense. And yes, there were other chances for players, such as Derrick Etienne Jr.’s shot from inside the six-yard box in the first half. But when Columbus needed a goal, particularly late in the second half, there was too much “give it to Cucho and hope he does something magical.”
To put it another way, the Crew had nine shots in the game. Seven of them came off the foot of Hernandez.
Porter has compared Hernandez to fellow MLS strikers Josef Martinez and Raul Ruidiaz. Even with their greatness, Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders have had their best seasons when these players have others around them also chipping in. Hernandez needs that help from his teammates for the Black & Gold to be successful.
It’s a game of moments
For 87 minutes, Jonathan Mensah was arguably the best player on the field for either team on Wednesday night. The Crew captain and center back led the team with nine clearances and made two important tackles, blocked a shot and had an interception. In the second half, he, along with goalkeeper Eloy Room, kept Montreal off the board.
But it only took one moment to undo all of that. This came in the 88th minute on a Montreal corner. Somehow, former Black & Gold striker, and the most dangerous man in the air for CFMTL, Kei Kamara got free enough in the 18-yard box and rose over Mensah to head home the equalizer.
In stoppage time just minutes later, Montreal lofted a ball into the penalty box that should have been cleared. Right back Steven Moreira, who had played otherwise a solid game with an assist and two clearances, misjudged the flight of the ball and then fell down. This gave CFMTL’s Joel Waterman, a defender, the time he needed to slot home the equalizer, albeit from a tight angle.
Pointing these out is not to highlight these players’ mistakes, but rather to state that a game can change at a moment’s notice. Despite Montreal knocking on the door in the second half and almost getting an equalizer, Columbus came close to getting out of the game with the full three points. But late minutes count the same and it was the visitors who kept focused and made the plays when it mattered while the Crew faltered at the end.