Despite Jairo Arrieta’s best effort to “inspire” his team, Columbus failed to pick up any points on the road against Chicago in a match that was vital to their playoff chances.
Arrieta intercepted an absolutely baffling gaffe from Chicago keeper Sean Johnson and put the Crew up 1-0 early. Unfortunately for Columbus, Ohio native Chris Rolfe quickly netted two goals of his own and Chicago held on for the victory. The beneficiary of a porous Columbus back line, Rolfe easily looked like the most dangerous man on the field throughout the evening. Columbus did hold an advantage in possession throughout the second half and created a handful of legitimate chances, but were left hanging their heads in disappointment at the end of the night.
Julius James and Josh Williams both looked to be out of sorts throughout the match as Rolfe was able to run free throughout the course of the match. I’m glad both of these guys give it their all every match, but right now neither one of them is playing well enough to warrant a spot in the Starting XI. Granted, Columbus’ injury report is longer than line at your nearest Apple store but at this point I’d be happy to see Eric Gehrig get another crack at being Chad Marshall’s partner in defense. Marshall must have the patience of a saint to put up with the likes of James and Williams as he looked like he was the only one who had a clue about how to defend like a professional.
The defense’s job wasn’t made any easier by the fact that Emilio Renteria started the match as wide midfielder after Dilly Duka went home for what Robert Warzycha called “personal reasons”. My gut feeling is this was a disciplinary issue. Duka has been subbed out early in each of his previous two starts and I’m not entirely sure why. He’s played well and been a bright spot in the attack. He’s also one of the more creative attackers off the dribble on this team. But all of that aside, Emilio Renteria is not here to track back and defend against Alvaro Fernandez. Fernandez ate Renteria’s lunch all night and frustrated the Venezuelan international into a yellow card in the first half.
Despite the all around poor performance, there is still a silver lining for Columbus. They have four matches left and three of them are at home. Not only that, but two are against Eastern Conference cellar dwellers Philly and Toronto. There’s also a visit from Kansas City and a trip to DC in the mix as well with the latter being by far the biggest match left to play. This team has shown too much fight to wither down the stretch. Remember how bad this time of year was last season? Columbus STILL made it into the playoffs after all that. A win next week against Philly is very much attainable and should provide enough momentum to help finish out the regular season.
That being said, I still think the lineup needs a bit of a tweak. Here’s what I’d like to see down the stretch…
Miranda – Marshall – Gehrig – Vukovic
Gaven – Tchani – Mirosevic
Higuain – Arrieta – Duka
Subs: Lampson, O’Rourke, Williams, Birchall, Renteria, Meram, Vargas
Okay, so that actually took a lot longer than I expected. Against Chicago, Miranda and (especially) Williams were getting forward because there was almost no width to the attack. Playing a 4-3-3 creates less of a need for those two to come forward and gives them more time to attack. Another problem was Higuain having to come too far back to get the ball. Mirosevic can be very valuable in the attack but there’s too much of a hole at the back to let him venture forward. Tchani is great at distributing out of the back of the midfield, but he doesn’t have the speed to cover sideline to sideline by himself. So in the end, MIrosevic’s attacking prowess has to take a back seat and Gaven has to play a bit more central than I’d like. But at least Higuain has freedom to roam wide and he and Duka can provide some service to Arrieta. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I can come up with based on who’s available right now.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll have something better by Saturday!