Crew Cuts: Crew SC scoring drought continues in loss to D.C. UnitedThe Columbus Dispatch, Ohio — Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
April 16--Gyasi Zardes pounced on a saved Pedro Santos shot, charging forward to finish his fourth goal of the season and give the Crew a 1-0 lead.
The Zardes goal came in the 29th minute of Crew SC's March 31 home game against Vancouver. It was the last Crew goal in what became a 2-1 loss to the Whitecaps and remains the Crew's most recent goal.
Crew SC will enter its week eight game against New England without a goal in its last 241 minutes of soccer. The stretch is the Crew's longest since May 2014, the last time it lost three consecutive games.
After going scoreless over the final 51 minutes in an April 26, 2014 tie with the New York Red Bulls, the Crew lost by shutout in consecutive games against Kansas City, Houston and Vancouver. Federico Higuain scored in the 14th minute of a 3-3 tie against Portland to end the scoring drought at 335 minutes.
Three straight losses and a lengthy scoreless stretch after a 3-0-1 start this season have humbled the Crew a bit, but with 27 games left in the season, there's no panic yet, captain Wil Trapp said.
"I think we're a team that tries to manage expectations and manage our level of concentration and our confidence. Not get too low or too high," he said. "Yes, we're disappointed. We should be disappointed. But it's not broken. We just have to continue to work hard and shore up a couple things."
The Crew might want to start with early mistakes. No MLS team is particularly great playing from behind, Crew SC included.
Of the 22 games either won or tied by the Crew in 2017, the Crew trailed in just six. Of those six games, it won three.
What was true during that scoring drought in 2014 remains true today: it's difficult to score after conceding early.
After a 22nd minute Nemanja Nikolic goal in Chicago and again after Ulises Segura scored in the opening minute for D.C. on Saturday, Crew SC faced a defensive front with nearly everyone playing behind the ball.
"Nah, listen: It's not an excuse. We can't say 'compact back line' -- we have to be responsible for our performance," coach Gregg Berhalter said. "We have to be responsible for not creating good enough chances, not moving the ball quick enough, not getting behind them quick enough."
Berhalter said the Crew did not circulate the ball fast enough with numbers even in the first half Saturday, allowing D.C. to shift and get in position and preventing spaces from opening.
"It's tough to concede early in the game," Zardes said. "It's difficult because teams like to park the bus against us, because teams know we can exploit them if they come out and play."
Teams also know that even if they are peppered with dozens of Crew shots, it's rare that those shots will be hit on target. Crew SC has outshot its opponents 45-10 over the last two games but put just seven of those shots on goal. That total does not include Pedro Santos hitting the crossbar against D.C. and Zardes and Mohammed Abu both finding the woodwork against Chicago.
Crew SC still has had a handful of quality chances trailing by a goal the last couple weeks, producing expected goal totals of 1.84 to D.C.'s 0.3 and 1.79 to Chicago's 0.51.
But in the one category that matters -- goals -- Chicago and D.C. were far more efficient. Both scored in their only shot on target against Crew SC.
"It's an exercise in being clinical," Trapp said of the consecutive shutouts. "Not just from the strikers and the wingers, but from every line of the team."
Crew SC has conceded seven times this season, the quickest by far coming Saturday. Ulises Segura one-timed a shot from 18 yards in the first minute, putting Crew SC behind in the first half for the second time in two weeks and the second time this season.
The Crew started the game with a series of back passes, gave D.C. possession for the first time around the 30-second mark and gave D.C. a little too much space as Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola each got a touch to set up Segura for his first MLS goal.
Berhalter said the ideal start off the kickoff is to put an opponent on its heels. Crew SC did the opposite.
"It was an example where we should have been playing the ball forward, getting into their half, pinning them back and making it difficult for them," he said. "Instead, we make six back passes and we end up turning the ball over and they score. I'll look at the specifics of it, but a general principle of it should be we want to get the ball in their half early in the game."
It was a much different play than the one that spotted Chicago a 1-0 lead a week ago. That was a direct giveaway from Zack Steffen to Nemanja Nikolic that set up a one versus one opportunity. On Saturday, 10 players were in front of Nick DeLeon when he headed the ball ahead to Arriola. Both center backs and Steffen were in front of Segura when his foot touched the ball, with Pedro Santos trailing only a couple feet behind. It was a higher degree of difficulty shot and Segura stuck the landing.
"It's just a little bit of competing early. A little bit of poor clearance," Trapp said. "And then dealing with runners off the ball. That was a good finish."
Coming off a 0-2-0 road swing, Crew SC heads to Mapfre Stadium for back-to-back home games against the New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes.
The Crew has not lost at home to New England in a regular-season game since July 20, 2013.
"Our job next week is to build that (confidence) back up," Berhalter said. "We know we have a couple of home games coming up and they're going to be big games for us."
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