Going into Saturday’s Columbus Crew game, the story surrounding the Black & Gold was whether the team had turned a corner after a three-game losing streak. Columbus had a tough opponent to prove it with the 2021 Supporters Shield win New England Revolution on the road. After leading 1-0 midway through the first half, two second-half goals by the Revolution nearly put the Crew out. Fortunately, a late goal earned a point in a 2-2 draw.
Injuries were the pregame scenario as right starter Marlon Hairston stopped injured before the first kick. This made matters worse considering Hairston started because of Steven Moreira’s hamstring injury.
This move led to starting winger Derrick Etienne Jr. switching to defense. It was Etienne’s first start at right-back since April 8, 2021, when the Crew traveled south to face Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16.
Once the game started, Columbus’ plan mirrored the team’s tactics from two weeks ago when traveling away to face SportingKansas City. The Black & Gold were happy to allow possession, sit back and wait for attacking opportunities.
Within the first 25 minutes, the plan worked. The Crew didn’t allow any New England goals, despite the Revolution having 64.7 percent possession. It was the visitors with the opportunities. In the 10and minute, forward Miguel Berry sent a shot, but it went over the crossbar.
The Black & Gold had their first good chance of the first half four minutes later on a throw-in. Full-back Pedro Santos kicked the ball in, Berry played the dummy and midfielder Darlington Nagbe charged in inside the penalty area with winger Yaw Yeboah tapping the ball towards midfield. Nagbe went one-on-one with New England goalkeeper Matt Turner and fired a shot into the guts of future Arsenal keeper.
Yeboah entered the match in place of Etienne, and on the 23rdrd minute, it looked like Yeboah was the next player to run out of time. Yeboah went for a tackle on the right sideline and fell to the ground under pressure from the New England midfielder. The winger landed on his wrist and held it, as the referee stopped the game. Luckily for the Black & Gold, Yeboah stayed in the game.
Four minutes later, the crew broke through with the first goal. Santos charged down the left sideline of the pitch, nearly lost the ball to two Revolution defenders, but stuck to the game. After recovering from a near loss of possession, the full-back continued his run into Columbus’ attacking half, sending a perfect pass into the right corner of the penalty area to Etienne when the Haitian winger sent a low cross into the box, and Berry put in the pass. at the bottom of the net.
Columbus finished the half, keeping New England one shot and no shots on target.
At halftime, head coach Caleb Porter made a switch by taking Berry for midfielder Lucas Zelarayán, who moved to the False 9 position. It was Zelarayán’s first full half since the 2-0 loss of the crew against Orlando City SC April 16.
In the 51st minute, the Black & Gold almost gave way. The Revolution sent a pass into the penalty area, which Nagbe stopped. Instead of getting rid of the ball, Nagbe and centre-back Jonathan Mensah watched the ball. Mensah cleared the ball, but it went through the face of the goal, giving New England a corner. The Revolution almost caught Columbus off guard when they took it on quickly, Room stopping a ball at the far post.
The Revolution put on the pressure in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Apart from the Crew’s error that didn’t turn into a goal, New England pushed to tie. It was Mensah’s defense and fellow centre-back Josh Williams who held off in the penalty area, each stopping attempts with their heads.
Revolution coach Bruce Arena brought in former Crew midfielder Emmanuel Boateng and veteran MLS striker Jozy Altidore to try to create more attack and convert passes in the penalty area.
Columbus almost doubled the lead in the 69and minute when Zelarayán found Etienne on the counter, with plenty of space in front of the winger to attack the goal. Etienne went to goal but never seemed to have his eyes on the net. Instead, Etienne sent the ball to his left at the New England defense. This is a target the crew needed.
In the 70sand minute, Boateng had an immediate impact, sending a pass to full-back Dejuan Jones, who placed a shot under Room’s legs, putting the Revolution even at 1-1.
Porter asked Etienne to add a lot more miles to his boots minutes before kick-off, moving from winger to fullback. Etienne played hard, but at the 82n/a minute, it was the right side of the defense that hurt Columbus. Etienne did well to deny a pass through the Crew’s back line, but substitute Luís Diaz was not in the area to get Etienne’s deflection, which led the midfielder to New Englander Sebastian Lletget to grab possession and send a cross to striker Adam Buksa who sent a header past outstretched arms or Room for a 2-1 lead.
It was an unexpected source from striker Erik Hurtado that brought the crew up to speed. Scoring his first goal for the Black & Gold on a second assist from Etienne. It happened as the crew went on the attack and Zelarayán returned to the No.10 role.
Another goal-inducing error
The Crew’s season has been marked by some tough times and Saturday’s game is no different. Columbus’ failure to come back on defense almost cost two points. In a game where defense was the order of the day, tired legs came back and hurt Black & Gold.
Perfection is not expected of any team, but another correctable mistake has led to more frustration for a team that has had a year full of similar moments.
Zelarayán approaches 90
Following Zelarayán’s injury on March 20 against New York Red Bulls, the crew gave the midfielder a week off to get back to work. This knee injury never fully healed and after three matches of ineffectiveness for Zelarayán, he dropped out of the starting XI to recuperate. Since then, the Crew has been slower to bring the playmaker back.
Zelarayán went from not playing against Sporting Kansas City to 20 minutes against DC United last weekend and 45 minutes on Saturday. Zelarayán’s role was different in this game, but he looked fresher than in previous weeks. He worked well in transition, jumping to direct long passes to his teammates and finding outlets.
The road to Black & Gold doesn’t get any easier. Columbus moves from facing 2021 Supporters’ Shield winners to 2021 MLS Cup winners, traveling to the Big Apple to face New York FC.