COLUMBUS, Ohio — Playing their second game against a Los Angeles team in four days, Columbus Crew SC were already in a tough spot.
League-leading LAFC didn’t have a midweek game and would be coming in fresher than the home side. To make things more difficult, starting goalie Zack Steffen and left back Waylon Francis both picked up injuries, forcing Crew SC coach Caleb Porter to dig deep into his defensive depth chart. Steffen bruised his foot in Wednesday’s game and is day-to-day. He was seen in MAPFRE Stadium pregame in a walking boot, and Porter said the goalkeeper couldn’t put any weight on the foot as recently as Thursday.
Francis picked up a quad strain in practice and will miss two to three weeks.
Despite Crew SC performing better than the on-paper matchup would lead one to predict, the talent on LAFC was too much, and the Supporters’ Shield frontrunners secured a 3-0 win at MAPFRE Stadium Saturday night.
With a rested Federico Higuain out of the starting lineup, the Crew tried a 4-3-3 formation for the first time this season, with the newly-acquired David Guzman starting in midfield. Early in the first half, Columbus goalkeeper Joe Bendik came out to grab the ball from the feet of Mark-Anthony Kaye. When he went to release the ball, Kaye kicked the ball out of Bendik’s hands. Bendik responded by shoving Kaye to the ground and shouting at him. Neither player was carded, and Kaye was called for the infraction.
Tempers flared from then on, as Wil Trapp, Guzman, and Walker Zimmerman all picked up yellow cards as the game became more physical. Kaye would get the better of Bendik in the 37th minute when Latif Blessing played a perfect pass to the midfielder. The slow rolling shot he sent in may very well have been meant as a setup pass, but it found the back of the net to put LAFC (8-1-3) in front.
Columbus (5-7-1) only managed one shot, off target, in the first half. At halftime, Higuain came in for Artur, and the offense showed a bit more life. Still, the Crew weren’t able to score, which has been a consistent problem this year. David Accam made his team debut in the second half as Columbus tried to find the equalizer. Accam displayed the speed he is known for, but to no avail. The closest the Crew came to scoring came late in the game as Gyasi Zardes put the ball in the back of the net, but the offside flag was raised.
“As I saw the game unwind, I felt we were going to score the game to tie,” Porter said. “If we don’t, I’m very very proud of my players and my club for how we played against the best team in the league. As I’m standing there at 1-0 … I was proud.”
May 11, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC forward Gyasi Zerdes (11) dribbles the ball in the first half of the match against the Los Angeles FC at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately for Columbus, 1-0 is not how the game would end. The defense had communication issues all night, as the Crew struggled to adapt to Bendik in net. That was evident in Adama Diomande’s goal in the 88th minute that came from an errant back header from Jonathan Mensah that went right over Bendik. Josh Perez originally had a chance at the open net, but hit the crossbar. Diomande finished the gift.
“It’s time for us to stop giving up cheap goals. That second goal, that’s the third or fourth time that’s happened. And that’s unacceptable at this level,” Porter said as he emphatically pounded the table in the post-game press conference. “In the last seven minutes of the game, we give up two goals, and everyone leaves the stadium thinking we were crap, and we weren’t.”
Carlos Vela added a third goal in the 90th minute on a fantastic strike that Bendik had little hope of stopping. Columbus will look to bounce back as the travel to Minnesota United next week.