OBETZ, Ohio – It was just past the 20-minute mark during a scoreless match last Saturday at Philadelphia, and the Columbus Crew had less than 50 percent of the possession.
Three minutes, later they owned the ball 54 percent of the time after a scintillating display of ball movement and combination play.
The problem was the Crew couldn’t dent the Union defense for a good look at goal and eventually lost the match 1-0.
“Possession without purpose is really nothing,” midfielder Danny O’Rourke said. “We need to get back and have that killer instinct in the final third.”
Instead, all the Crew did was kill the clock.
They connected on 17 straight passes before Philadelphia knocked the ball away, but the Crew immediately regained possession for an additional 21 passes. The Union were able to get two touches before Columbus strung 12 passes together until the ball was knocked out of bounds by Philadelphia.
On the ensuing throw-in, Andrés Mendoza took a shot from 25-yards that was blocked by Danny Califf and the Crew didn’t have another attempt for 43 minutes.
“We have to work on the final pass,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “We cross when we’re supposed to dribble; we dribble when we’re supposed to cross.”
Despite Columbus finishing with the better possession (57.5 percent) and having more passes (499 to the Union's 381) with better accuracy (81.8 to Philly's 76.4 percent), each team had eight shots and the Crew’s only one on goal was a bending strike from 25 yards by Mendoza in the 16th minute that Zac MacMath saved.
“They did well to defend as a unit, and a lot of times we did well to get into the attacking third,” O’Rourke said. “But Robert stressed we didn’t get many good crosses off, which was evident. We didn’t get guys in the box to make them pay.”
Warzycha has experimented the past two games with dropping leading scorer Mendoza (11 goals) behind Tommy Heinemann while Emilio Rentería recovers from a concussion. The results have been mixed.
“We played a 4-5-1 so there’s more guys in the midfield with Andrés withdrawn,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “It’s a little easier for us to keep the ball but in the end he’s a goal scorer. He’s a guy who likes to be in front of the goal.
“It was hard for him to get in positions where he was really dangerous,” he added. “The same with me, Dilly [Duka], Tommy – we really couldn’t find spots to get dangerous.”
The task won’t get any easier for the Eastern Conference leaders (11-10-8) on Saturday when they host Supporters’ Shield frontrunner LA Galaxy (16-3-10), who have the best goals against average (0.76) in the league this year.
The Crew will have Emmanuel Ekpo back from a red-card suspension so he could add some cutting runs to open up the defense, but the bottom line will still be finishing the chances.
“We need to punish teams when we have possession of the ball and we’re dictating the flow of the game,” Rogers said.