Trend of allowing opening goal saved by second half that Columbus Crew want to replicate in playoff push

Porter: "I think there have been some times this year where we've lacked 5 to 10% of that (fight). That second half finally the light bulb went on a little bit … and the team refused to lose."

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch

A main difference between last season’s Crew that won MLS Cup and this year’s group was illustrated in the first half of a dramatic 2-1 win against New York Red Bulls on Tuesday night, a victory that kept the Crew floating around the playoff line. 

Last year, the Crew were remarkably efficient on scoring chances they created and could rely on a defense to hold steady to preserve a win or a draw. Against Red Bulls, winger Luis Diaz missed a quality chance in the eighth minute from 10 yards out, and the defense allowed a goal off a throw-in. 

Allowing the opening goal and the lack of chances or fight from the team for the rest of the first half was a familiar refrain, and if not corrected will make getting a playoff berth exceptionally difficult. 

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But the Crew found a source of inspiration in the second half with goals by Darlington Nagbe and Miguel Berry in the 74th and 87th minutes and looked like the team from last year. 

Columbus Crew defender Jonathan Mensah (4) hugs midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) after he scored during the second half of the MLS soccer game against the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The Crew won 2-1.

"I think there have been some times this year where we've lacked 5 to 10% of that (fight),” Crew coach Caleb Porter said. “That second half, finally the light bulb went on a little bit and the team rolled their sleeves up and refused to lose. That's the mentality we had last year.” 

The 25th-minute goal from Red Bulls forward Patryk Klimala was the Crew’s 20th first-half goal allowed this season. Only seven times in 25 games this season have the Crew scored the first goal. 

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But it wasn’t just the fact that the Crew let up a goal on a simple throw-in. The Crew didn’t exemplify the type of drive to win that had been a staple of the 2020 team, which has been a theme through this season and something Porter has mentioned repeatedly when it comes to a post-championship season. 

“You've just got to win first or second balls. You've got to want to be in duels. You've got to be hungry to fight and to work,” Porter said. “Second half, fortunately the guys did that. They rolled their sleeves up and subs came in and were outstanding." 

Porter challenged the players in the locker room at halftime, fully knowing there was plenty more effort they could give. Once center back Josh Williams, winger Alex Matan and Berry entered as substitutes, the Crew responded with force. 

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Williams and center back Jonathan Mensah locked down any counter-attacks from the Red Bulls. Switching to a 4-4-2 diamond formation from the Crew’s normal 4-2-3-1 allowed Nagbe to have the ball higher up the field and helped the Crew create more chances. 

Columbus Crew defender Jonathan Mensah (4) passes the ball during the first half of the MLS soccer game against the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The Crew won 2-1.

The Crew had 10 shots, four on target, in the second half and ended the game with a 2.1 expected goals value, one of its highest of the season. While it was against one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer — albeit a difficult team to play against because of their pressing style — the second-half effort will be the expectation moving forward. 

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"It'll be really exciting to kind of build off the second half and see what we're made of in these last nine games,” Porter said. “For a lot of reasons, it's going to give us a lot of information hopefully going into playoffs and also moving forward, who we can count on.” 

The second-half Crew looked like a playoff team. The first-half team did not. Finding that effort consistently will make or break the remaining nine games. 

"We've had games like this year, last year, but the difference was we found ways to make one or two more plays in the box, in the attack or defensive boxes,” Nagbe said. “It's not far off. Hopefully this pushes us in that direction." 

jmyers@dispatch.com

@_jcmyers

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