For the first time this season, Sporting KC's high powered offense was completely shut down in Columbus as the Crew pulled out a 1-0 win last night at Crew Stadium. Disappointing is one way to describe the game, boring might be another. Neither team really went about creating many great chances, Sporting KC had one or two good looks at goal while Columbus had about the same. The difference for Columbus was that they finished one of their two good chances.
The first half neither team really impressed, but KC did have the best chance as Kei Kamara was played in on goal, but Crew goalkeeper, Will Hesmer got a foot on Kamara's shot and knocked it out for a corner. KC had some half chances as the half wore on, but didn't seriously test Hesmer.
In the second half the Crew started trying to assert themselves into the game more, getting into the attack. Five minutes in, Julio Cesar picked up his first yellow card of the game for a reckless tackle on a Crew forward. At the time the yellow and foul looked like a good call for KC fans, as the referee did not play advantage as Crew midfield Eddie Gaven was in on a breakaway with Jimmy Nielsen. Three minutes after Cesar's yellow, karma struck as the Crew grabbed the lead. Dilly Duka played a cross field ball that found Robbie Rogers open on the right side. He played the ball into space, and as Michael Harrington tried to cut the angle, Rogers slid a shot past Harrington and just out of reach of Jimmy Nielsen and into the net giving the Crew the only goal they'd need. In fact, even after the goal, it was the Crew that looked more likely to score a second than KC looked to grab one, Hesmer wasn't really tested with a difficult shot the rest of the game, while Nielsen had to make some big saves, including a shot by Gaven in the 68th when Gaven was left alone at the penalty spot. Rogers had beaten Harrington down the line and played a ball back into the path of Gaven, but Nielsen did a great job of cutting the angle down and getting a foot to the shot to push it wide. In the 72nd things became even more difficult for KC, as Cesar picked up his second yellow of the game for a handball as Crew sub, Tommy Heinemann worked to get around the sliding KC defender.
Overall I want to blame the crap passing, the horrible midfield play, and more stupid defensive mistakes, but that would be taking away from the strong defensive performance by the Crew. Yes at times KC's passing made it looked like some of the guys had never played together as passes were played in the opposite way that some players ran, but that also takes away from the fact that the Crew did a fantastic job of cutting down those angles and forcing KC players to change their runs forcing those mistakes. It's still an area that needs massive improvement.
The midfield was just overrun, Birahim Diop isn't the answer at d-mid any more than Craig Rocastle and Stephane Auvray have been so far this season, each has had trouble helping out the defense. Milos Stojcev had a poor game, unable to pick out the 3 KC forwards most of the time, but again credit to the Crew for cutting those lanes down. Davy Arnaud has been sitting much deeper this year, and has done a decent job, but more often than not KC's captain has been invisible for long periods of time in games this season. This isn't the first time the midfield has had trouble either, all 3 previous games this season, KC has been outplayed for much of the game in the middle of the park, and that's led to some of the problems at the other ends of the field. Last night CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury, and Kei Kamara were virtually invisible, they were totally starved of service by the midfield or even long balls over the top. The midfield needs improvement still.
Maybe it's time to rethink the 4-3-3, at least until Omar Bravo and Ryan Smith are healthy. The midfield needs some extra help, and as the substitutions last night showed, KC's offensive punch off the bench is almost nonexistent. Maybe switching to a 4-4-2 for the time being could possible help the midfield play and would give KC an option like Sapong on the bench if a goal is needed. With the players we currently have available, this may be the best option for the injured front line of KC.
I would be remiss if I didn't bring up Cesar's red card from last night. Both yellows could be seen as a little suspect. The first one I had no problem with the yellow card for the challenge until a couple minutes later, when Crew defender, Julius James committed basically the same foul in the same area of the field on Birahim Diop, but James got away with just a talking to. Consistency on the part of the referee would have made the first yellow no problem. The second yellow, after watching the replay I can see why it was called, the way Cesar rolled, it certainly looked like he played it a bit with his arm. If not for the hand ball, Heinemann was in on goal against Nielsen on his own.
A poor performance by KC, especially after having a week off, hopefully a trip to KC's second home, New England will help correct it. But once again the Crew need to get plenty of credit for the way they played totally cutting off KC's front 3.
Wizards Man of the Match - Jimmy Nielsen - Not really sure anyone else really deserved it for this game, Matt Besler had a decent game as well, but Nielsen's strong saves kept KC in the game, it's not his fault the offense wasn't able to get going.
Player Ratings - Nielsen 6, Harrington 4, Cesar 3, Besler 5, Espinoza 5, Diop 4, Arnaud 4, Stojcev 3, Sapong 4, Bunbury 4, Kamara 4. Subs Zusi 5, Thomas 4, Aiyegbusi NR