The injury bug conspired to bite Columbus Crew SC multiple times on Saturday.
Two players, defensive midfielder Artur and center back Alex Crognale, came off in the 1st half due to injuries suffered in the club’s 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. With the result, RBNY’s unbeaten streak at home moves to 18. Crew SC is now winless in their last four against New York.
Injuries Ravage Columbus Crew SC in 2-0 Loss to New York Red Bulls
Manager Gregg Berhalter made no changes from the starting XI that defeated Toronto FC 2-1 last week. Rookies Niko Hansen and Alex Crognale once again saw the field at opening kickoff in place of their more experienced counterparts on the team.
Hansen made his second straight start at right wing in place of Ethan Finlay. And with Jonathan Mensah still out of the squad completely due to a hamstring injury, Crognale started for the third game in a row alongside Nicolai Naess in central defense.
Things took a turn for the worst almost immediately after kickoff for the visitors. In the first minute, defensive midfielder Artur cleared a ball into touch but in so doing fell backwards and had to break his fall. Upon contact, he immediately began writhing in pain and clasping his left arm.
Play stopped for quite a few minutes as medical staff attended to the Brazilian number eight. Eventually, they put an air cast on his arm which is generally an indication of a broken bone. It forced Columbus to bring in Mohammed Abu in the sixth minute.
With Crew SC still feeling the effects of losing a key player in their midfield, they found themselves vulnerable. The vaunted Red Bulls high press made it even more of a challenge. And five minutes after the injury-related sub, RBNY took advantage.
The chance began at the feet of Sacha Kljestan. The Red Bulls playmaker found plenty of space to dribble the ball towards the Crew SC defense. He also had left back Kemar Lawrence making an overlapping run behind him. He laid it off to Lawrence who centered it to Alex Muyl. The second-year Homegrown made no mistake putting it past goalkeeper Zack Steffen for the opening goal of the game.
After the initial tally, the Red Bulls continued to dictate the flow of the game. Over the first 35 minutes of the game, they enjoyed an average of 62 percent possession. Still, Crew SC began seeing more of the ball 25 minutes in which gave the home side opportunities to sit deep and counterattack.
That’s exactly what they did in the 35th minute.
With Crew SC’s lines stretched, RBNY hit them in transition. Daniel Royer brought the ball into their attacking half and slid it over to Bradley Wright-Phillips who made a diagonal run right in front of him. As BWP moved into the box, Crognale barreled into him which gave referee Jorge Gonzalez no choice but to point to the spot.
It was the first major mistake from the Crew SC Homegrown. But even more concerning was the fact that he remained on the ground clutching his leg in obvious pain. It forced Berhalter to make the team’s second substitution in the first half due to a player sustaining a knock.
The club provided an update on Crognale early in the second half.
On the field, Royer stepped up and converted the penalty in the 38th minute. Though Steffen guessed right, the placement of the shot as well as its velocity proved too much for him to keep it out of the net. Suddenly, Crew SC was down two goals and two players.
Forced to chase the game in the second half, Columbus owned the lion’s share of the ball throughout the final 45. They registered 67.2 percent possession in the final stanza. But it was far from purposeful. Crew SC registered just a single shot on goal and four total.
In contrast, the Red Bulls made the most out of continuing to bunker in protecting their two-goal cushion. Transition chances were plentiful and, though unsuccessful in adding to the lead, the Red Bulls continuously forced Steffen into action.
But the young Crew SC netminder performed admirably. Though he let in two, it easily could’ve been more if not for his shot-stopping quality. All in all, he finished with five saves.
In the end, the biggest story coming out of this game are the injuries to two players who’ve made an immediate impact since becoming regulars in the starting lineup this year. Crognale is averaging 8.4 clearances per 90 which is second in MLS among players who’ve appeared in a minimum of 400 minutes. Artur currently leads Crew SC with 13.67 combined recoveries, interceptions and tackles per game. That mark is fifth in the league among team leaders.
Berhalter and company will face a challenge if those two are sidelined for an extended period of time. In Artur’s case, that appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Crew SC returns to MAPFRE Stadium next Saturday when the Black and Gold faces the other team from the Tri-State Area in New York City FC. The match kicks off at 7:30 PM.
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications