The MLS season is roughly halfway through and the Columbus Crew haven’t exactly lit the league on fire thus far. Playing in front of the packed crowd at Sporting Park in Kansas City is always a tough sell with a team trying to get out of a mini slump. The Crew had lost 3 out of 4 coming into the matchup with Sporting Kansas City, with the win against the Montreal Impact not enough to soften the blow of losing twice to the Chicago Fire (including once in the US Open Cup) in the past couple of weeks. If you include the 3-0 loss to the Union last month, the Crew has had a rough go of it recently and need to start putting together some results to get a good push into the playoffs.
Injuries have dealt Warzycha a rough hand so far this year, with both Eddie Gaven and Glauber missing the rest of the year with ACL injuries. Adding insult to injury, midfield stopper Matias Sanchez has already picked up enough yellow cards (5) to warrant a suspension. Stepping into Sanchez’s place was youngster Kevan George. George has seen a number of minutes this season as a center back, but with so many injuries in the defensive midfield spot, George was asked to show his versatility and step up into that more advanced role. Going forward, Bernardo Anor was preferred to Ben Speas on the right hand side of the attack. Kansas City went with their favored 4-3-3 formation, which meant that the two Crew fullbacks, Tyson Wahl and Chad Barson, would have their hands full dealing with the Sporting wingers. Both Barson and Wahl struggled against the Fire last week and it seemed as though Sporting head coach Peter Vermes targeted those areas as potential problems for the Crew defense, even without CJ Sapong due to suspension. Graham Zusi found his way back into the KC team after his stint with the USMNT.
The first half of play was very choppy, both teams trying to get a feel for the other team’s intentions. Sporting had a lot of success in between the Crew’s midfield and defense, with Graham Zusi pulling Danny O’Rourke and Kevan George out of position on a couple of occasions. It took the Crew a few minutes to settle down, and get a feel for the rhythm of the game but it wasn’t enough to get into halftime on level terms. The breakthrough came as the first half was coming to a close with a beautiful ball over the top of the Columbus defense by Soony Saad. The ball’s target, Kei Kamara, took it down and blasted it past a helpless Andy Gruenebaum.
The second half was when it got crazy. 3 goals flew in in a span of less than 10 minutes to begin the second half. Jairo Arrieta started off the scoring with a brilliant solo goal that took him past 3 defenders on route to goal. The Costa Rican forward is a great player when on form, and the Crew needs him to be at the top of his game going into the 2nd half of the season. Minutes after Arrieta’s goal, a deflected cross in the Crew penalty area found Sporting KC striker Claudio Bieler, whose finish was clinical. That go ahead goal looked like it might have been a crucial point in the game as the Kansas City forward trident continued to pour forward in an attempt to pile on the pain. A period of sustained pressure immediately after their 2nd goal saw them almost score a couple of times but couldn’t capitalize. Fortunately for the Crew, a good offense can sometimes be the key to a good defense, and nobody does counter attacking soccer like Dominic Oduro. As the ball broke away from one of those Kansas City attacks, Federico Higuain looked up to try and spring a fast break with the speedy Oduro. His 40 yard ball was too far ahead of the Ghanaian though, but a misplaced back pass by Seth Sinovic was enough to let Oduro to take the ball around the onrushing Jimmy Nielson and put in the equalizer.
As the game approached the 80th minute, it increasingly looked like a game was there for either team to win. This is the part of the game that makes the injury problem ten times worse for Crew fans. Bringing on Ben Speas was a solid option in the circumstances, but Speas hasn’t been the same since his great play towards the beginning of the season. Having a player like Eddie Gaven healthy would allow for flexibility in the late game substitution options and might have made the difference down the stretch. As it was, the Crew was pegged back one final time with a Kei Kamara winner. There was a tiny bit of controversy in the buildup to the goal as Bernardo Anor was on the ground in the Kansas City penalty box with cramps as KC countered and scored. I’m not going to blame the Kansas City players for continuing to play though, as it’s their prerogative to play until the whistle. This “controversy” is a non-starter for me and only there to take away from the Crew’s own shortcomings. Allowing 2 or 3 goals a game is not a recipe for success, and it needs to be addressed. Fullback is a problem area, and even though I think Chad Barson can become a great player I don’t think he’s ready yet. The return of Matias Sanchez should help shore up the midfield, but something isn’t clicking right now with the back four. Chad Marshall can’t be the hero in every situation and he needs the defensive foundation around him that will allow the team to be successful. There needs to be more work on solidifying the defense line, and not letting players get behind the fullbacks so easily without ample cover. The Crew doesn’t have a lot of room in the financial department, but it’s clear that something needs to be done in the transfer window to help with injuries and squad rotation.
With the loss, the Crew drop to 7th in the east, 3 points behind Houston in 5th. Kansas City breaks out of a mini slump with the win and are up in 4th place.
(image courtesy of USA Today Photos)