After only four days, the Columbus Crew returned to Lower.com Field. This time, they welcomed the Chicago Fire. The Black & Gold’s mission was to secure the victory and earn their first back-to-back wins of the 2022 MLS regular season. Instead, the Black & Gold couldn’t find a goal and Chicago was ok with that, leaving Columbus off a 0-0 draw.
Before the match even began, the Crew were surprised again by Lucas Zelarayán. Unlike Wednesday, where the dynamic midfielder was a late scratch, it was seeing his name on the starting 11 that caught everyone’s attention.
Friday, head coach Caleb Porter listed him questionable and said he was unlikely to compete against the Fire, making Zelarayán’s name on the team sheet a pleasant surprise for supporters.
Elsewhere in the starting lineup, it was the same 10 that head coach Caleb Porter has used in the past two matches over the past seven days. At times during the first half, it definitely looked like it too.
Columbus looked to try and go with their starters and get on the board early, after not scoring a first half goal since Aug. 13, in the away trip to the Colorado Rapids.
To the Crew’s credit, they did create chances. In the first half, Columbus led in possession (60.8 percent), shots (7) and shots on goal (3).
It began in the fourth minute, Columbus showed that with winger Luis Díaz they could easily get behind an injury-ridden Fire defense. Díaz got into an advantageous position for a dangerous cross but it went too far for anyone to put a shot on net. That summed up the first half well.
The Black & Gold attacked their offensive penalty area but seemed to miss on the final pass, or try a back heel or quick touch pass that wouldn’t reach its intended target. Fortunately, their stout defense from Wednesday’s win was on display in the first 45 minutes.
Chicago mustered up three shots but none on goal. When crosses went into their offensive penalty area, the Black & Gold cleared them away and didn’t have any close calls to put themselves down at home early.
The Fire’s offensive woes got worse in the 33rd minute. That’s when midfielder Brian Gutiérrez left the game for an injury substitution. In the final 15 minutes of the half, outside of a few shots from distance that couldn’t come close to goal for Columbus, the Crew would have to rely on the final 45 minutes to find anything.
Columbus entered the second half with renewed momentum, but it felt like nothing would go into the net. In the first 20 minutes, the Crew tacked on 11 more shots, with the biggest chance coming in the 63rd minute.
On the break, forward Cucho Hernández had a shot on goal that goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina responded to with a great save. On the rebound, Hernández shot again, this time cleared off the line by the Chicago defense. That was after a header grazed in front of goal and Zelarayán forced a diving save.
As the match approached 20 minutes left, it was clear that the visitors were ok with a road point. After seeing a little bit of it with phantom tackles in the first half the second half was ramped up to another level.
Chicago goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, who had a great match, began taking his time on goal kicks, requiring the referee to intervene. When another first half Chicago substitute Jhon Duran required trainer assistance, the trainers and Duran walked the width of the field to exit instead of the three to four feet he was away from the far sideline.
Either way, it was the Crew’s job to break through at home and struggled to do so. In the final 10 minutes, Díaz sent a cross that Hernández’s slide couldn’t reach. Try as hard as they could and their six shots on goal and 20 shots overall couldn’t find a home passed the goal line.
Columbus had a great night if shots on target and almost chances counted, but soccer isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades. Instead, it was a frustrating night where the Crew couldn’t buy a goal.
Even so, the Crew played well offensively all match, and weren’t challenged much defensively. On most nights, Columbus is putting away the chances they created against Chicago.
Rest and Relaxation
The starting 11 remaining mostly the same from Wednesday was a surprise. Playing three matches in seven days is a trek for even the most well-conditioned professional athlete. Columbus looked tired and didn’t make a substitution until the 68th minute.
Porter made four of his five substitutions, with two of the four being offensive-minded players in a match that needed a goal. The new names helped but without any momentum to the match, courtesy of Chicago working towards
From Saturday’s Crew draw, the Black & Gold play on two pretty rare days on the usual Crew schedule. It starts with a trip to CF Montréal on Friday, Sep. 9. Then, they play on Tuesday, Sep. 13 down in the tip of the Florida peninsula, against Inter Miami.
Columbus faired well against CF Montréal in their last match until a late storm delay. From the restart, the Crew gave up two goals in a 2-1 defeat. Against Miami, just four days before Saturday’s Chicago match, the Crew won 1-0 in a complete defensive performance.