COLUMBUS – The Crew got older, and the result was slightly better.
Against Houston on Saturday, an injection of experienced players helped Columbus to a 2-2 tie, ending a two-game losing streak. Out went left back Shaun Francis (20 starts, in his third season) for 28-year-old Montenegrin defender Nemanja Vukovic, the 10-year pro who made his first MLS start after signing earlier this month.
Vukovic is steadier on the ball and picked up a secondary assist – his first point – on Eddie Gaven’s goal in the 74th minute. It gave the Crew a short-lived 2-1 lead.
“I feel good, and I don’t feel good because it’s not three [points],” Vukovic told MLSsoccer.com afterward. “We scored two in  minutes and lose ... three points. That’s very stupid I think. The team played very good, but not very good because [Houston] scored too many.”
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With Vukovic replacing Francis and Danny O’Rourke – who has been in the league since 2005 – replacing rookie Kirk Urso at defensive midfield, the Crew were able to keep playmaker Milovan Mirosevic further up field to link with the forwards.
Although Mirosevic didn’t figure in the scoring, Columbus looked more fluid and dangerous. The shifts seemed to most benefit Gaven, who rebounded from a poor start to the season with his first two goals.
“We played well enough to win the game,” he said. “We had very good team energy. We had two nice goals. We probably could have scored four or five goals, to be honest with you. The tie hurts but there’s things we can build off of.”
Two other rookies also went out of the lineup as Tony Tchani made his first start on the right wing in a Crew uniform, replacing Ethan Finlay, and veteran forward Emilio Renteria returned to the first XI after a one-game absence as Aaron Schoenfeld went to the bench.
Schoenfeld set up the second goal after subbing for Renteria seven minutes earlier.
The only move by coach Robert Warzycha where someone with less experience started was Josh Williams, signed in September 2010, getting his first start over second-year defender Eric Gehrig (seven career starts).
While the Crew (2-3-1) scored more than one goal for only the second time, the defense continues to be a concern as they’ve allowed at least two in half of their games.
“This was the best game we’ve played,” defender Sebastian Miranda said. “We created five or six chances and that is good. I think we have to be stronger in defense. Always when they came, they [Houston] were dangerous.”
4 – Points after three home games tying the 2006, ’04, ’03 and ’00 teams for the fourth slowest start in Crew Stadium over the past 13 seasons. They lost their first three at home in 2002; had two points the previous season and opened 2009 with three straight ties.
3 – Games played (all starts) for Danny O’Rourke in 2012, or, half the number of appearances he had in 2011 while recovering from knee surgery.