Tuesday night couldn’t come soon enough for the Columbus Crew. After being up 2-0 against CF Montréal on Friday, a red card and two late goals tarnished what could have been a momentum-shifting result. A short turnaround brought the Black & Gold to South Florida, taking on Inter Miami. After entering half-time tied 1-1, and then another long weather delay, Miami’s Gonzalo Higuain hit a difficult shot to send Columbus home without a point in a 2-1 defeat.
Entering the match, the team sheet looked slightly different from the last time these two teams battled on Aug. 31. For the home team, forward Alejandro Pozuelo, acquired midseason from Toronto FC, missed the Lower.com Field matchup due to a red card. On the Crew side of things, winger-turned-fullback Pedro Santos returned from a hamstring injury sustained against Atlanta United on Aug. 21. Santos didn’t start for the Crew, but Pozuelo was part of a Miami offense that looked more potent than their meeting two weeks ago when Columbus squeaked out a 1-0 victory.
From the first kick, Inter was aggressive, forcing a diving save by goalkeeper Eloy Room in the second minute, off midfielder Gregore.
The Crew sustained the pressure and began to create some of their own. Midway through the half, the Crew built up strong 70 percent possession and seemed to live in their offensive half of the field. Then, Miami found their spot and attacked.
In the 25th minute, Inter went on the counter attack, something they relied on heavily two weeks ago. This time though it got the home side onto the scoreboard. Forward Ariel Lassiter had a 2-on-1 with Higuain on center back Jonathan Mensah, with fellow starting defender Miloš Degenek trying his best to track back. Lassiter sent a pass in front of Mensah and found Higuain for an easy put away in front of a statuesque Room in the 25th minute.
Head coach Caleb Porter’s side turned the deficit into action, almost leveling less than five minutes later. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. shot on goal, but center back Ryan Sailor deflected the shot, sending it off the right post.
Columbus continued the offensive possession they had prior to allowing the goal, and found the space they needed in the 41st minute.
On a mini counter attack, winger Kevin Molino, starting for Luis Díaz who missed due to red card suspension, had strong hold up play allowing his teammates to enter the attack before Miami could fully set. Molina found fullback Steven Moreira who sent a cross into the penalty box with forward Cucho Hernández leaping up against center back Aimé Mabika. Hernández put his head into the ball and bounced it off the field in front of him. The header bounced above goalkeeper Drake Callender and past the goal line, putting the Crew level before halftime.
The action didn’t end soon enough for the Black & Gold. In the first minute of first half stoppage time, Mensah went up against Higuain again, running down the sideline against the forward, going into a slide tackle to stop momentum and get the ball out of play.
Mensah didn’t get off the ground, needing trainer attention. The captain held the back of his left thigh and was substituted before the three minutes of stoppage time ended for veteran center back Josh Williams.
Before Williams and the Crew could come out for the second half and try to turn their one goal deficit into a lead, a common foe entered the match: a storm delay, he sixth storm of the season for Columbus.
After two hours and 21 minutes, the two sides continued the match, even with lightning still spotted outside of the stadium.
The second half began a lot like the first. Miami started off strong, with the match feeling more like a scrimmage or a 2020 empty stadium match, and attacking the Crew defense. It required two saves on goal from Room before the Black & Gold woke up.
Also like the first half, Columbus outperformed the opponent following the home side’s early momentum. The Crew put two shots together and continued strong possession they had in the first 45 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, it didn’t turn into any goals but Santos did make his return, That return came as a winger too, allowing rookie Will Sands to stay in a defensive fullback role.
Santos’ return celebration was short-lived. In the 82nd minute, Pozuelo passed to Higuain on a perfectly timed run that left Moreira chasing the 34-year-old forward inside the penalty area. As Higuain reached the goal line, he took on a shot from a tough angle and slotted it past Room.
Columbus couldn’t find a goal to earn the draw. Down a goal, Porter brought winger Yaw Yeboah in who almost tied it at the 88th minute. Then, in the 90th minute, it got worse for the visitors. Etienne, who had a solid night despite not scoring, injured his left knee and Columbus had no substitutions remaining. Etienne returned to finish out the match though, and the Crew almost tied it again.
In the final minute of stoppage, a cross went into the offensive penalty area and midfielder Lucas Zelarayán got to the ball, knocking it right over the crossbar. Soon after, the loss became official.
Kevin Molino hits the century mark
Tuesday evening featured a celebration for Molino. After joining MLS in 2015, with Orlando City SC, the Trinidadian started his 100th MLS regular season match against Miami. The midfielder on the field offered a different set of skills than Díaz. Molino moved more central and was an outlet for creative passing in Columbus’ offensive half of the field, earning an assist on the Hernández goal.
Molino’s career has moments of hard work and skill coming through on the field but also a tough injury history. He’s torn his ACL three times since becoming a professional soccer player, and did in 2021 in his first year with the Crew.
The match is only Molino’s ninth start with the Black & Gold.
Back on the scoresheet
A lowlight of the recent Crew form was a zero in the goal column for Hernández over the past four matches. While four matches doesn’t seem like a lot, the new Colombian forward got off to a hot start that started to cool, at least goalscoring-wise.
Tuesday, Hernández broke two droughts. The first, his own four matches without a goal. The other? Columbus’ struggles in first half scoring. Hernández was the last Black & Gold player to score in the first 45 minutes since Aug. 13, against the Colorado Rapids.
Columbus gets four days off before the team’s next match, welcoming the Portland Timbers to Lower.com Field on Sunday, Sept. 18. Portland enters the match on a four-game winning streak, beating Minnesota United, Atlanta United, Austin FC and the Seattle Sounders since Aug. 31.
Nearing the end of his fourth season with the Black & Gold, Porter’s faced his former Timbers side only once since leaving in 2017. In that match, Portland beat the Crew 3-1 on Apr. 20 at Historic Crew Stadium.