[EDITORIAL] – Let’s face it. It’s hard to say anything complimentary about the Columbus Crew SC defense after what transpired on Wednesday. Playing a return leg of sorts at the Philadelphia Union after beating them 1-0 in Columbus on Saturday, the Black and Gold fell in embarrassing 3-0 fashion.
Simply put, Crew SC’s back three imploded. First came Jonathan Mensah getting sent off 35 minutes in after taking down Union forward C.J. Sapong in the box, denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Zack Steffen saved the ensuing spot kick. 41 minutes later, Lalas Abubakar saw red after pushing midfielder Ilsinho in the face (even though it’s pretty clear Ilsinho flopped in reaction to it).
Manager Gregg Berhalter defended his players after the game, decrying the officiating in his post-game press conference. Though that will likely land him a fine, it certainly reinforces his standing as a players’ coach. Nevertheless, Crew SC’s central defense suffered massive attrition in this game with Alex Crognale essentially the last man standing.
Alex Crognale’s Puzzling Exclusion From MLS Homegrown Game
It encapsulates this unit’s performance up to this point, with Crognale arguably the most consistent center back on the team’s roster in 2017. The Crew SC academy product, who played collegiately at Maryland, signed a Homegrown deal with the club in the off-season. So far, he’s appeared in 14 games, making ten starts.
Crognale In vs Crognale Out
This may be an oversimplification, but there’s a markedly glaring contrast in Crew SC’s fortunes based on whether or not Crognale saw the field in a given match. The Black and Gold are averaging 1.93 points per game in those 14 matches Crognale either started or came off the bench. In the other eight, that number plummets to 0.5 points per game.
If we compare the club’s points per game when he sees the field to other regulars at center back, his value becomes even more apparent. The following chart makes that notion quite evident. It shows how many points per game Crew SC obtained when these four players are on the field.
Note: minimum ten appearances.
|Player||Appearances||Club Pts in Appearances||Club PPG in Appearances|
Looking at those stats by themselves, it seems readily apparent that Crognale is putting together an impressive rookie campaign. After all, if the team as a whole registered 1.93 points per game, they’d be at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings right now. So where’s the recognition from the league as a whole?
The Homegrown Snub
Just a few days after the MLS Homegrowns take on the Chivas U-20s, it’s pretty clear that Crognale’s resume warranted inclusion on the roster. Of the 18 players who made the team, just four (Jesse Gonzalez [FC Dallas], Tyler Adams [New York Red Bulls], Brooks Lennon [Real Salt Lake] and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla [Montreal Impact]) have seen more time in MLS regular season play than Crognale’s 898 minutes. In fact, half the players on the Homegrown game roster have less than 500 minutes played, two of whom haven’t seen the field at all.
At this point, we’ve established two fairly incontrovertible facts. Firstly, Crew SC comes away with three points more often than not when Crognale’s on the back line. Second, his contribution from a pure minutes standpoint is better than an overwhelming majority of the players slated to take part in Tuesday’s Homegrown game. And you all thought Justin Meram was the only Crew SC snub.
It doesn’t end there. Part of what makes Crognale so effective on the pitch is his ability to put out fires in and around goal with utmost composure. A look at stats provided by Opta bears this out. His seven clearances per 90 minutes is tied with the Houston Dynamo’s Adolfo Machado for most in MLS among players who’ve logged at least 750 minutes.
Oh, and he’s also made the MLS Team of the Week starting XI on two separate occasions thus far. Surely, that should count for something as well.
Wait a Minute, Brian McBride’s One of the Coaches?
What makes Crognale’s snub from the Homegrown Game all the more disappointing is the fact that one of the team’s coaches is a Crew SC legend. Not only does Brian McBride have his name in the club’s ring of honor, but he was also the first draft pick in club history. Though McBride already had a few years of professional soccer under his belt before he joined Columbus, technically he was an MLS rookie.
With that in mind, it would’ve been refreshing to see a first-year player in Crognale get recognized by a former player of McBride’s stature. Seeing venerated figures from a given club’s past help promote those who will ostensibly contribute to its future is always a good thing. Unfortunately, in this particular case, it didn’t happen.
Perhaps there were some extenuating circumstances. Crognale is 22, perhaps a little too old for a game against a U-20 team from a Liga MX side. But that argument doesn’t hold much weight considering three other players are over 20 years of age. That includes the likely starting goalkeeper in Gonzalez, who’s the same age as Crognale.
Columbus Fraught by Snubs in 2017
Whichever way you look at it, Crognale’s lack of inclusion in the precursor to Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game against Real Madrid is unwarranted. Though Crew SC’s defense certainly qualifies as underachieving in 2017, Crognale deserves minimal blame. His body of work is as good as any of the four defenders on the current Homegrown roster.
In the end, denying the “Crog Nail,” as Crew SC supporters have dubbed him, a chance to prove himself as one of the top Homegrowns in MLS amplifies a certain narrative. Combined with Meram’s much more high profile exclusion, said narrative is Columbus, OH as “Snub City USA” during this year’s All-Star Break.
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications