Yamil Asad and Luciano Acosta combined for possibly the goal of the season so far for the Black and Red but it was in a futile and ultimately depressing 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. The two MLS originals clashed in front of a small but engaged crowd at the MAPFRE Stadium. A lot of high pressure from the visitors seemed to have the hosts rattled but 3 significant breakdowns on the defensive end let the Crew ease their way to victory. First it was some unfortunate bounces and perhaps overzealous defending from Mora which allowed a low cross to sneak past both center backs and a lunging DeLeon to find a wide open Crew player who easily slotted home. Second a completely unmarked Ricardo Clark (of 2010 WC USvGhana infamy) made a near post run and looped a header up and over Ousted. Then in a mirror image of the first goal a counter coming down DeLeon’s side found a cross slip past both center defenders and a lunging Mora falling to a wide open Crew player who made no mistake, essentially killing off the match before half. In and amongst these breakdowns was some very solid play from United. The high pressure resulted in a turnover very early and the newly restored Paul Arriola played an inch perfect pass through to a streaking Mattocks who’s first touch was about as good as a fifty year old drunk dude playing Sunday morning pick-up in the park. Kempin easily smothered the chance. The best moment came when a long ball skidded off the head of a crew defender letting Acosta latch onto it in all kinds of space. Mattocks near post run collapsed the defense and Acosta picked out the trailing Asad who used the defender as a shield to bend the ball into a perfect upper ninety finish. The questionable officiating didn’t help matters but after halftime United looked as disinterested as a cat is in water.
Need to show ability to overcome poor officiating – The match was marred with poor decisions. None was as impactful as the inexplicable decision to not at the very least award a foul when Abubakar made a two-footed, studs up lunge at Acosta. It should’ve been a yellow which would’ve reduced the Crew to 10 men (Abubakar was already on a yellow for earlier tackling stupidity). Instead the Crew launched a counter attack that resulted in the third goal and essentially ended the game. While Olsen and the players were rightly outraged, the eleven on the pitch need to set this aside and buckle down. Olsen’s job is to help the team with the outside distractions. Let him argue with the officials while the players need to come out with more intensity and determination than ever. That non-call took all the positives that DC had shown up to that point and totally nullified them. Olsen’s teams in past have at the very least been fighters, no matter the odds. It is very concerning that last season and the start of this (outside of the second half against Houston) have shown a real lack of conviction in their system when faced with adversity.
Collapsing centrally conceded goals – This is more of a tactical/strategy argument than a real critique of the team. I’m assuming the defenders have been instructed by the coaching staff to collapse/shift to the most central attacker when the attack is coming down the opposite side. On face value this makes logical sense. The closest attacker to the goal and the ball is the most dangerous. So shifting off your usual mark and covering that attacker is understandable. However, this defensive strategy resulted directly in a Columbus winger being left completely alone on the backside of the play, which allowed him to easily slot home a goal when the ball came all the way across to him. There are a couple of points to be made here. First, the defensive strategy works if, when sliding centrally, you also guard against the cross-field switch of the ball along the floor. A cross-field switch through the air isn’t a concern as the time the ball spends in the air will allow the defense to re-position to block any ensuing attack. This was clearly demonstrated on the first and third goals when DeLeon and Mora nearly got to the low crosses but came up inches short. This is completely unacceptable. They needed to either win the ball or recognize they wouldn’t get there and shift to block in front of the attacker. The second point is that stronger communication along the back-line would also solve the problem. Either, the midfielders need to be alerted to the shift and drop in to cover the backside or the central defenders need to stay more anchored in the middle instead of shifting out wide to the incoming attack which allows the backside defender to stay put and eliminate the situational danger. On the first goal Birnbaum shifted left to help in case Mora was beat, Brillant shifted into Birnbaum’s spot, and DeLeon collapsed into the middle to Brillant’s spot leaving DeLeon’s mark wide open. On the third goal the exact opposite occurred. Brillant shifted to help DeLeon, Birnbaum slid to cover Brillant, and Mora collapsed centrally leaving the backside yet again undefended. Hopefully during film sessions this week DC will straighten out this glaring weakness. If not we will be in for a long season as teams will easily pick us apart.
Continued (painful) growth – Once again 45 minutes showed serious potential for the Black and Red. As has been the case now in three out of four games, DC has put together a solid 45 minutes. It was particularly unfortunate this time as DC still managed to find themselves down 3-1 despite all of the good moments they produced. The high press from the kickoff was particularly encouraging as it gave the Crew all kinds of fits and starts. If Mattocks had taken a better touch it may even have resulted in a lead. The second half was like night and day. A completely deflated bunch trudged onto the pitch after halftime and showed none of the spark or enthusiasm that had categorized their first half. It is getting repetitive, old, worn, and hollow to note “growth” from this team without 3 points at the final whistle. If the team can keep faith and continue to work at the little things there have been enough sparks through the first 4 matches of 2018 to suggest that this could be a potent group of players. But very quickly this excuse is running dry. Some may want to employ it until we christen Audi Field but at that point it may be too late for this season. We need to change growth into three points at least a couple times before we return home.
Player Ratings (1-10 scale):
Ousted: 4 – None of the goals were totally his fault. He was hung out to dry on all 3 opportunities. But when you’re stepping into Bill Hamid’s shoes, the miraculous is expected. Unfortunately the Dane never came close to producing any miraculous moments.
Mora: 4 – I wanted to grade the new addition higher but when you concede 3 goals as a defender you have to do something on the offensive end to raise this grade. He rarely showed up in our attacking third and was culpable in part on both the first and third goals.
Birnbaum: 4 – Same as Mora. Maybe fell asleep on the second goal which is worryingly similar to his performance last year. He’s quickly kissing any national team career goodbye unless he seriously buckles down.
Brillant: 4 – Continues to be a strong anchor for this defense but wasn’t on his game. Simply overwhelmed too many times. Wasn’t able to organize the team defensively as much as was needed.
DeLeon: 4 – Yet again a disappointing defensive performance. Honestly looked better when shifted back to midfield late in the second half. Maybe it’s time to use him as an impact sub on the wings and see if Odi-Atsem is a legitimate answer. Then again, maybe they already know he’s not and we simply don’t have any other options at the moment.
Harkes: 4 – Not a great 2018 debut start for the legend’s son. Wasn’t able to consistently provide an outlet or a link to the rest of his team. Didn’t help cover defensively enough either. Still looks somewhat raw. Hopefully he can develop into a real piece as the year goes on.
Durkin: 5 – Great debut start for the homegrown youngster, all things considering. There were the occasional mistakes that were to be expected with a poor touch or pass or maybe a little slow on recover but all in all he provided a calming defensive presence in the midfield that was really in pretty stark contrast to any of Harkes’ performance to date. I’m really hoping Ben considers getting him more and more starts as the year progresses to build him into a full-time starter by the end of the year (if not mid-year when Audi Field opens).
Asad: 6 – Beautifully taken goal. Did show some connection starting to develop with Mora. Could’ve done more defensively. For as electric as he’s shown he can be in certain moments, I have not felt we’ve seen a complete game performance from the big off-season acquisition.
Acosta: 6 – Gets my MoM pretty much by default. Typical Lucho performance. Danced on the ball. Found some good passes. Lost the ball. Put in some decent defensive work. Couldn’t quite be the game-changer that he is when we truly shine.
Arriola: 5 – Should’ve had an assist on the day. Played a fantastically weighted ball through to Mattocks early in the match. Did link up well with Acosta and Mattocks on a couple other occasions. But largely disappeared for big chunks of this match. Didn’t seem to track back to his usual standard, which was particularly noticeable with DeLeon’s continued struggles.
Mattocks: 4 – His so-so performances continue. After such a positive showing against Houston he reverted to the Orlando version. Had some connection with the midfield trio behind him but couldn’t really generate any offense from those passes. Did a decent job pressuring Columbus high up the pitch out of the gate which was encouraging. Spoiled his best chance when played in by Arriola thanks to one of the worst touches you’ll ever see from a professional. Should get credit for making a critical and good run to the near post on the DC goal. Became less effective as the half wore on. Maybe a little hard done by to get yanked at half but if it was injury related, completely understandable.
Mullins: 4 – Didn’t seem to provide anything different from Mattocks. He’s clearly slower and while the goal may have been to provide more of a straight up attacking option I’m not sure he even got a shot off.
Odi-Atsem: 5 – Showed some pace and enthusiasm upon entering. Didn’t really result in much but was still technically a positive.
Jeffrey: NA – Stepped on in stoppage time. Seemed more of a time wasting sub. Which is odd coming from a team down 2 goals.
Olsen: 3 – This may be a bit harsh but his subs made little to no impact. And I have to believe based on the mirror images of goals 1 and 3 for Columbus that the shifting of the back line was a coaches tactical strategy that they had worked on during the week. Hopefully he’ll use the bye week to rethink and retrain.
With the Toronto match getting rescheduled thanks to their CCL commitments we get a welcomed rest. Hopefully the extra week off will get us prepared for a visit to the Blue Hell. Honestly I think this could be one of our better chances at a full 3 points if we actually put together a full 90 minutes for the first time this year.
As much as I dislike what they have done to us in recent matches, losing Columbus would be very painful. The home of Dos a Cero needs to be preserved. #SaveTheCrew