Saturday’s 2-2 draw marked the first time Columbus Crew SC has gained a point from a losing position this season, and it’s not for a lack of effort, but rather a lack of instances.
It was only the second time this regular-season in which the Black & Gold found themselves having to come from behind, and Saturday's result was particularly important in two respects; one being that this team is human after all, particularly given the prior defensive showcase. The other notable lesson is that this group can rise to the occasion.
“I think every game is an opportunity to grow from and learn from and that’s definitely an area that we’re going to learn from and no matter what you think or say before a match, until you get punched in the nose because you let your guard down, you’re probably never really going to learn that lesson,” said Head Coach Caleb Porter following the match.
“It was the first time this year that we were just flat for whatever reason.”
Ahead of the opening whistle, the Crew were within reach of tying the best-defensive start in League history as they looked to secure their ninth shutout in 11 games, as well as their second streak of four consecutive shutouts this season.
Of course, those expectations were evaporated early on as Chicago put in two goals in the 11th and 14th minutes.
However, as out of sync as the Crew looked in the first half, there were signs of encouragement before halftime as the Crew finally got on the front foot from an intensity standpoint while Chicago downshifted into trying to play not to lose.
“[The players] responded, and it’s not easy to come from behind down two goals on the road, so I think that’s the second learning lesson: we can come from behind if we need to,” Porter said.
“We don’t want to; we prefer to start the game strong and get the first goal … but also if we have to come from behind by throwing the kitchen sink and being direct and clawing and scrapping and grinding and doing all the dirty little things that we need to come back, we can do that.”
As unusual as a position as it was, the comeback result stemmed largely from the halftime message.
Porter, who hinted that as mad as he was heading into the break, approached the team constructively, and with that, the players – particularly the veterans – responded accordingly.
“[It’s] extremely motivating for our coach to treat us like men because it allows us to see that he has faith in us,” Gyasi Zardes said after the match.
“We know we’re going to get the job done in the second half, especially based on the last 25 minutes of the first half. So all the players knew we’d be calm and collected and we knew as soon as the second half started, we were going to be all over Chicago Fire and that obviously starts in the locker room with the coach, and it carries on to the field with the players.”
Zardes scored the game-tying goal thanks to a bit of luck, but also in part to clinical instincts.
“For the second goal, Youness [Mokhtar] was driving at the back line and he tried to play a through-ball and sure enough, it hit the back of my thigh and I already knew where the goal was, so I just had to take a touch and a quick shot and I caught the goalkeeper off guard.”
Prior to that, it was a Zardes header that deflected off Fatai Alashe to halve the deficit at a critical turning point in the second half, as Columbus fired off seven shots in just over 20 minutes leading up to the Crew’s opener.
“On the first goal, I decided to switch up my run and catch my opponent by surprise, so I ran near-post and I just tried to put it on frame and sure enough, Fatai [Alashe] was there to just knock it in the goal,” Zardes recalled.
Of course, with the likes of Lucas Zelarayan out, Zardes’s goal production will continue to take up the lion’s share, with Porter commenting afterward that he’ll “continue to stay out of his way and let him keep bagging goals.”
With Nashville SC coming to town on Saturday, Sept. 19, it’s another match against an opponent significantly lower in the standings.
Given that, the Chicago result was an important and opportune reminder ahead of this weekend, Porter said.
“I think it now allows us to really have the attention of everybody. We have a reference point now to say, ‘Listen, we’re playing this team, and yeah they’re not maybe as good as you think on the table, but they’re capable still. In MLS, every team is.’
“We say all these things every game and I think now [the players] know, now they see what can happen. So, we’ll be better from those 20 minutes and these are lessons you need to learn along the way: you absolutely need to learn them.”