After the Crew’s 2-1 loss to the Fire this weekend, many fans questioned the substitutions and lineup management by head coach Robert Warzycha.
Up a man since the 30th minute and down a single goal since the 36th, the first Crew sub didn’t come until 58th minute. And it was arguably the Crew’s second-best attacking player on the night, Justin Meram, who came off for forward Aaron Schoenfeld.
Meram started the game on the left wing, where he has proven to be dangerous cutting back inside on his right foot for either a shot attempt or a cross. The problem for Meram was that only starting forward Emilio Renteria was in the box, and we all know Renteria isn’t renown for his heading ability. So, the player serving dangerous crosses into the box was taken out of the game, while another forward was inserted. This still wouldn’t have been that big of a problem, but Renteria and Schoenfeld both aren’t the best with the ball at their feet. Essentially, this left the Crew with another man in the box, but fewer to serve them the ball in the only spot they are dangerous on the field: the attacking third.
Another problem I had with this substitution was the fact that two central midfielders were still left in the game. While I agree with Warzycha subbing on a forward, I believe that rookie Kevan George should have been taken out. George was having a rough time in the middle of the field, giving away way too many passes, including the one that lead to Chicago’s first goal in the 2nd minute. He wasn’t adding to the attack and was proving to be a liability in defense as well.
Warzycha’s reasoning may been to keep two center midfielders in order to deal with the Fire’s attacking quartet. But, at that point in the game, I would rather send more players forward and lose 3-1 then continue to play shaky even with a man advantage and still lose, 2-1.
The second sub for Columbus came in the 75th minute. Emilio Renteria exited and Olman Vargas entered in a straight switch at forward. At this point, the Crew had been up a man for 45 minutes and had only been able to pull one goal back. Both of the first two subs were attacking player for another attacking player. I would have much preferred to have taken out a defensive player at this point, or a center midfielder like mentioned before.
In the 78th minute, Warzycha made the third and final sub. Out came left-back Nemanja Vukovic and in came speedy winger/forward Ethan Finlay. It had been almost fifty minutes since going up a man, and this was the first true attacking substitution. I would have liked to see this before the 70th minute at the very latest. Playing your biggest rivals in their stadium, you have nothing to lose if you are still down a goal and playing with an advantage at that point in the game.
Ultimately, the Crew barely threatened to score in the last 30 minutes. After a six game unbeaten run, the Fire still controlled possession for the entirety of the game. If you started watching in the 40th minute, you would barely notice the man advantage Columbus had unless you were counting the players on the field.
One of the bright spots for Columbus was Tony Tchani. Tchani started on the right wing, scored the Crew’s only goal with a nice individual effort, and had three other shots that could have gone in on another day.
As a fan, the substitutions were frustrating to watch, as was the team’s performance. One can only hope they show better on the 30th at home against perennial league leaders Real Salt Lake.