For the fifth straight time, Columbus Crew SC has been forced to share the points at home.
But Saturday night’s 2-2 draw against Orlando City SC had to have felt particularly frustrating. Enjoying a two-goal halftime lead, the Black and Gold let it all get away in a five-minute span during the second half. The result has a “here we go again” feel to it and leaves more questions than answers going forward.
Columbus Crew SC Lets Another Result Slip Away Against Orlando City SC
A match that ended so poorly began with much promise. In the 20th minute, Tony Tchani opened up the scoring via a brilliant give-and-go with Justin Meram. The Crew SC box-to-box midfielder slotted it to Meram, made a penetrating run to receive the return pass, and dribbled past two Orlando defenders. The finish past goalkeeper Joe Bendik gave the home team a 1-0 lead.
Right before the stroke of halftime, that advantage would double. Crew SC striker Ola Kamara got taken down in the box by Bendik in first half stoppage time. It was a challenge that referee Drew Fischer got right on two accounts: number one in pointing to the spot, number two in just cautioning Bendik. Given the ball’s angle away from goal after Kamara was fouled, a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity was unwarranted.
Nevertheless, Kamara stepped up to the spot and placed it well-enough to beat Bendik who had guessed right. It marked the Norwegian center forward’s tenth goal of the year. That puts him into a tie with three other players for fourth best in MLS. As a result of his PK finish, Columbus took a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
But things were quite different in the second half. After enjoying a nearly 60-40 edge in possession in the first stanza, they were out-possessed 54-46 in the next 45. And Orlando had five shots on target in the second half after having none in the first.
That proactivity would pay off in the 65th minute. Five minutes before, dynamic playmaker Kaka came off the bench in his first appearance after missing the previous three games due to injury. And it was his quality from the corner flag that led to Orlando City halving the Crew SC lead. His well-placed ball fell directly in front of goal in the six-yard box. And Kevin Molino was at the right place at the right time, able to deftly touch it past Steve Clark to make it 2-1.
Five minutes later, the visitors would equalize. And it came off the head of Orlando’s own dynamic center forward Cyle Larin. But Molino played a part, sending in an excellent cross from the right flank. The Canadian international in Larin made no mistake in putting it past Clark. Suddenly a two-goal cushion was no more.
Columbus did get a bit of a boost in the 71st minute when Federico Higuain replaced Mohammed Saeid. The Argentinian playmaker had three of the clubs 18 total shots in the short period of time he was on the field. Nevertheless, the club could not find that last tally necessary to get the full three points.
Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter discussed the “tale of two halves” nature of this contest post-game.
“The first half was fantastic,” Berhalter told the Columbus Dispatch. “(It was) a really, really good performance. And the second half, we allowed them too much space, we weren’t shifting quick enough, (and) we weren’t putting enough pressure on the ball.”
That kind of complacency can be lethal against a team like Orlando City SC. The team possesses two highly talented attacking players in Molino and Larin. Both contributed to the score sheet tonight. And both played their part in enabling the Lions to escape MAPFRE Stadium with a road point.
In discussing what Molino brings to the table, OCSC interim head coach Bobby Murphy talked about the added work rate the Trinidad and Tobago attacking midfielder has brought to his game. It’s this industriousness that doesn’t necessarily appear statistically but is hugely valuable. And these qualities are a far cry from earlier in his career.
“What you’re seeing in Kevin now is a maturing player,” Murphy told Last Word on Sports. “One who we used to call them ‘luxury players’ who just when he gets the ball he does something. I think just as valuable as the goal and the assist was late when he ran down Corey Ashe in the corner and didn’t let the cross in. And I don’t know that Kevin of two years ago would’ve done that.”
Larin’s goal typified what a pure number nine is all about on the pitch. His ability to win aerial duels in and around goal is what makes him one of MLS’ best target forwards. Berhalter elaborated upon that afterwards.
“I think he’s a fantastic striker,” Berhalter noted about Larin. “He brings tremendous physicality, very good movement inside the penalty box, he strikes a good ball. I think he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Getting Higuain back is undoubtedly a positive. Creativity in the center of the park has been lacking in his absence. Kamara thinks his presence in future games will be critical.
“I think getting him back will be a boost for the whole team,” he said of the Argentinian number ten. “Everybody knows he’s a good player. And the opposite team also knows that he’s dangerous every time he gets the ball.”
But moving forward, the continued inability to get results at home has to be troubling. Of Crew SC’s final 14 games, just six are at home. And it should also be noted that the club still has yet get a win on the road.
For Berhalter, this is an issue of desire. Do the players on this roster want it enough to grind out a result when they need it? And that characteristic appears to be lacking at the current time.
“If we want a victory, we need to sacrifice more,” he stated. “We need to put more into it. It’s every play, like I mentioned. It’s going after it and realizing that every moment of the game has an impact on the game.”
Crew SC’s next contest takes place on Sunday July 31st against Toronto FC. It marks the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. The previous two both ended in draws.