Columbus Crew SC unbeaten in 9 – but is their attack Zardes-dependent?

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In the midst of a nine-game unbeaten run, it can be difficult to find reasons for concern.

But for Columbus Crew SC, who are right in the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference, the team’s ability to continue to string wins together may hinge on their ability to involve more than just Gyasi Zardes in the offense.

Acquired in a trade with the LA Galaxy in January, Zardes is on pace for a career year. In just 15 games, he’s already scored 10 goals, his first trip into double figures since his 16-goal sophomore season in 2014.

“It’s a huge positive for my career,” Zardes said after hitting double digits in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls. “Just being healthy and playing for a new group, it’s great to score again.”

Past their starting striker, however, Columbus attackers have struggled to supplement Zardes’ production with goals of their own. Aside from Zardes, Federico Higuain is the only other Columbus player with more than one goal on the season, and three of his four tallies have come from penalty kicks.

Saturday’s match highlighted that lack of scoring distribution. Columbus created chance after chance, launching 19 shots – including 15 in the first half – but only scoring once, on a Zardes header.

“We created so many chances, we should have gotten more from it,” winger Mike Grella said. “That’s why the game is so fun to watch, I guess, and so interesting to be a part of. Anything could happen. That first half could have finished 3-0 or 4-0 really easily.”

Pedro Santos, Grella’s partner on the opposite wing, after shooting twice and hitting the bar, said he wasn’t sure why he hasn’t scored more.

“I work a lot to try to score, but unfortunately, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m hitting the post.”

The lack of goals isn’t bothering the team, however.

Zardes said he’s confident his supporting cast will produce goals sooner than later, and said Columbus has a “good group.”

Head coach Gregg Berhalter said he doesn’t see any problem with his attackers’ production.

“I just think that’s a narrative; I don’t believe in that,” he said. “When you have 19 shots and six on target, enough guys are getting enough opportunities.”

Santos said he’s feeling “awesome” after coming back from injury, and was even more confident in his ability to start adding goals as early as Wednesday’s visit from Atlanta United (7:30 pm ET | TV and streaming info).

“I think in the next game, I will score for sure,” he said.