Columbus came into Saturday’s game with a six-match winless run, but after encouraging performances on the road against Sporting Kansas City and Houston, there was some reason to believe the Crew weren’t as bad as their slide indicated. The big red flag was goals. Columbus was still doing a good job of playing games on their terms, and the defense had been decent (if imperfect), but the team hadn’t scored in two games. If Gregg Berhalter’s men could right the ship, score some goals against visiting Vancouver, the streak would look more phase than trend.
Instead, Columbus played its worst game of the season. With a 37th minute goal from Erik Hurtado, the Whitecaps were able to earn their first road win of the year, out-shooting Columbus 22-12 in the process.
With Omar Salgado and Kektua Manneh nearly doubling the team’s lead late, Vancouver could have made the 1-0 final look much worse. Still, holding the ball for only 40 percent of the time while waiting for the Crew to open up, the Whitecaps wrote their chapter in the growing book on Columbus.
The Crew are as intent to keeping the ball as any team in the league (second only to Kansas City), and they’re willing to commit their fullbacks forward early to do so. The problem comes when you get players like Hurtado, Manneh, and Sebastian Fernandez coming at your defenders in transition. When somebody like Pedro Morales (who created five chances, per Opta) has the range of passing to find them, the problem gets worse. And players like Matias Laba (11 tackles) can create turnovers, your way of playing becomes a recipe for failure. Vancouver really should have scored more.
Regardless, the Whitecaps implemented a plan other teams can, too, provided they’re willing to let Columbus have the ball. Do you have ball-winners in front of the defense that can also get the ball out of your own end? Do you have players that can get at isolated defenders before Josh Williams, Waylon Francis, and midfielder Tony Tchani can recover? Do you have people who can score goals? Unfortunately for Columbus, a number of teams in the league can now check these boxes.
This would all be different if Columbus had more credible attackers. Then teams couldn’t just let the Crew have chances to pick apart defenses. Instead, the Crew were trying to get one of Jairo Arrieta or Dominic Oduro to work. They’re trying to get goals from Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez. On a minute-by-minute, chance-by-chance basis, it’s just not enough. Columbus’s attackers aren’t doing enough with Berhalter’s scheme or Higuain’s distribution.
Vancouver deserve credit for accumulating the pieces to pick apart a team that was once 3-0-0 team, and in games like these, the experience and pragmatism that made Carl Robinson’s promotion so appealing may have paid off. But in hindsight for the Crew, those early wins came against a slow starter (D.C. United), one of the league’s worst teams (Philadelphia), and with help from a red card (Seattle). In the seven games that have followed, the Crew have scored five goals.