On Saturday night, the Crew looked more like a pretender than a contender.
In a battle for sole possession of the overall points lead, Columbus were defenseless at times and lacked the bite needed to unsettle Los Angeles on Saturday at the Home Depot Center.
A 3-1 defeat not only dropped the Crew (13-6-5, 44 points) three points behind the Galaxy (14-5-5) but narrowed their cushion in the Eastern Conference to only four points over New York, who won 3-1 over Colorado earlier in the day.
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“We didn’t do a good job on the three goals we gave up,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We didn’t do a good job holding onto the ball or finishing our chances."
"It’s one of those games where they played really well,” he added. “We didn’t play well from front to back. Sometimes that happens over the course of a season. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again for us this year. Hopefully, this is the last time we put out a performance like we did tonight.”
The only bright note on a dismal night for the Crew was a first MLS goal for Andrés Mendoza in the 85th minute. He made his second appearance after playing a couple of minutes the previous week against D.C. United.
Mendoza entered in the 63rd, when the Crew officially surrendered the match trailing 3-0. In a swap of forwards, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Steven Lenhart went to the bench for Mendoza and Emilio Renteria, saving the starting pair for a possible start Tuesday in a CONCACAF Champions League match against Joe Public.
At that point Crew coach Robert Warzycha could have gone for an all-out attack to effort a comeback. He instead opted to stay with four defenders and Mendoza’s score only made the game appear closer than it really was. It was reminiscent of the late Lenhart goal against Chivas USA on July 31, played on the same field and producing an identical score.
The Crew's struggles at the Home Depot Center should be no surprise: They are 0-4-4 on the road against the Western Conference. In the past four weeks, Columbus have faced off against each of the top three teams in the West. They lost 2-0 at Real Salt Lake, tied FC Dallas 0-0 at home and then were humbled Saturday for the second time this season by the Galaxy.
“We know we can play much, much better,” Gaven said. “It’s not like all of a sudden we have to hit the panic button. We know we still have a very good team.”
Unlike a 2-0 LA win in Columbus on May 29, when the Crew were the dominant team and held a 21-3 shot advantage, the Galaxy took control early and forced the Crew to chase the game. Edson Buddle’s goal in the 13th minute was an example of giving up on a play.
No one covered Landon Donovan on the throw-in and the normally reliable central defender Chad Marshall lost track of Buddle as he drifted from the center of the box and watched helplessly as Sean Franklin's lovely cross sailed over his head.
Lackadaisical defending also accounted for Dema Kovalenko's score in the 35th minute. No one tracked the veteran midfielder through the penalty area.
“They were the better team,” midfielder Brian Carroll said. “They finished their chances well. We fought. We had a couple of chances that didn’t go our way.”
The third goal was off another restart and the culprit this time was rookie left back Shaun Francis, who had poor positioning on Jovan Kirovski at the far post.
“Obviously, we’re going to try and put this one behind us,” Gaven said.
The Crew’s next league match is Saturday against former coach Sigi Schmid's Seattle Sounders.