After long weather delay, Columbus Crew falls 2-0 to LAFC

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May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew forward Miguel Berry (27) tries to bring down the ball against Los Angeles FC defender Sebastien Ibeagha (25) in the rain during the 1st half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.
May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew forward Miguel Berry (27) tries to bring down the ball against Los Angeles FC defender Sebastien Ibeagha (25) in the rain during the 1st half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.

The storyline Saturday at Lower.com Field was the Crew’s daunting challenge of matching up against the top team in MLS this season.

Thanks to a large storm front blowing through, it became a challenge of waiting for hours on end to start a game that was twice delayed against Los Angeles FC and finished almost seven hours after its original start time. After kicking off three hours late and stopping again just 2:34 into it for another front, it was the visitors that left with a 2-0 victory on second-half goals by Carlos Vela and Jose Cifuentes.

May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew Investor-Operator Dr. Pete Edwards looks up at the rain as severe weather delayed the start of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.
May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew Investor-Operator Dr. Pete Edwards looks up at the rain as severe weather delayed the start of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.

"Cruel game," Crew coach Caleb Porter said. "I’ve been around this game a long time and there are certain games that are more cruel than others. I do think in the long run it’s fair, as well, but today it was very cruel."

Vela, who only played the second half, put LAFC up 1-0 with a goal in the 62nd minute — about five minutes after the Crew’s Yaw Yeboah had one erased by a video review that showed he was barely offside. Cifuentes added a second goal for Los Angeles 11 minutes later off an uncharacteristic mistake by midfielder Darlington Nagbe, giving LAFC a comfy 2-0 cushion in the 73rd minute for a final cruise to victory in a game the Crew largely dictated.

May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela (10) celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game during the 2nd half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.
May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela (10) celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game during the 2nd half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.

"I thought it was one of our best first 60 minutes of the year," Porter said. "We came out, you could see visibly from the first minute, our energy, and that’s after jacking guys around for basically two or three hours (with the delays). We had to tell them seven times that they were going out (to warm up) and then they’re not going out. Their team had to deal with it too. It’s tough, but both teams had to deal with it, so for me it’s not a story of the game … other than I think we actually handled it, from my standpoint ... I thought we handled it better than they did."

Columbus just couldn't get a goal that counted past LAFC keeper Maxime Crepeau, losing by another 2-0 score after falling 2-0 at New York City FC a week prior.

Yeboah, who started because Derrick Etienne Jr. was benched for a disciplinary measure that Porter declined to reveal, appeared to score the game's first goal in the 21st minute. That one was quickly ruled offside after he slipped behind the defense in the penalty area, keeping it 0-0.

His second one happened in the 57th minute, early in the second half, and was more controversial. The Crew attacker was offside by only a matter of inches and a video review is the only reason his goal was overturned after initially counting — eliciting boos from a Nordecke section that waited out a driving rain storm, claps of thunder and numerous flashes of lightning for hours before the game.

Vela got free for an uncontested chance against Crew keeper Eloy Room about five minutes later and made it 1-0 with his team-leading sixth goal of the season and 63rd in his MLS career.

“Not much to say," Crew captain Jonathan Mensah said. "We all saw what happened. Obviously, we would’ve loved to see one of the offside goals count, but what can we do? We keep working.”

May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles FC midfielder Jose Cifuentes (11) celebrates his goal during the 2nd half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.
May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles FC midfielder Jose Cifuentes (11) celebrates his goal during the 2nd half of the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022.

The victory snapped a two-game losing skid for LAFC, which handed the Crew its second straight defeat in the third game of a challenging four-game set against some of the league's top teams.

It was a bitter pill to swallow.

“These kinds of games hurt more, because we kind of controlled all the game in the first 60 minutes," outside back Pedro Santos said. "After we scored the goal (that was negated), I don’t know what happened, but I think the confidence gets a little low and we start conceding a little more (possession) and it took two opportunities to kill the game.”

Vela and fellow star forward Brian Rodriguez rested the first half and subbed in to start the second. Their presence didn't immediately affect the outcome, but both eventually played big roles in LAFC's two goals.

“We knew that they were coming into the game at the start of the second half and obviously we had to be more careful, because if they have one opportunity they’re going to score it — and it was exactly what happened," Santos said. "Vela had one opportunity and scored a goal and these kinds of players can make a huge difference in a game and that was exactly what happened.”

Columbus carried the bulk of attack time throughout the first half and first 15 minutes of the second. The Crew (3-5-4) finished the game possessing the ball for 64.7% of the game, but finished with 10 shots and three on goal. Los Angeles had the ball 35.3% of the time, put four of 14 shots on net and scored twice.

"We don’t get the goal and they subbed in two very good players that turned the game on its head," Porter said. "Credit to them. Credit to Steve (Cherundolo), their coach. Obviously, they’re getting results this year and doing very well. They’re extremely talented. Credit to them. That’s another very good team. That’s why they’re at the top of the league.”

Aside from his disallowed goals, Yeboah also had a great chance stopped by Crepeau in the game’s seventh minute. Taking a pass from Steven Moreira inside the penalty area, Yeboah launched a sharp-angle shot from the right side of the net and watched it come right back at him off the save.

Miguel Berry also had a great chance in stoppage time in the first half, but his shot from close range in front of the net was blocked.

“It’s putting the ball in the back of the net, because we are creating," Santos said of the Crew's recent scoring difficulties. "That’s the positive thing. We create a lot, but we have to be more decisive inside the box and we have to score the goal when we have the opportunity, because that’s what the offenses are doing to us. They get one chance, they score a goal and after that it’s easier to control the game.”

Columbus Crew coach Caleb Porter not pleased with Los Angeles FC's 'professional fouling'

Los Angeles was called for 19 fouls to just seven for the Crew and LAFC was also assessed six yellow cards to none for Columbus.

Porter felt it was a strategy by LAFC that wasn't dealt with properly by the officials.

“Their plan was ... kick us, foul us, chop the rhythm," Porter said. "I did not think the referee managed it well at all. I told him that after the game. Too many repetitive fouls on Lucas (Zelarayan) and Darlington. Obviously, he gave yellows, but it was too late almost, and I didn’t think it was managed well at all — especially when there’s professional fouling going on and you know it’s a tactic to just kill the game."

May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; A Columbus Crew fans watches the final second of the game between two Los Angeles FC fans during the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022. Los Angeles FC beat Columbus Crew 2-0.
May 21, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; A Columbus Crew fans watches the final second of the game between two Los Angeles FC fans during the MLS game between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio on May 21, 2022. Los Angeles FC beat Columbus Crew 2-0.

Columbus Crew forward Lucas Zelarayan dealing with occasional knee pain

The good news with Zelarayan’s ongoing knee inflammation is that it’s generally feeling better. The bad news is that he’s still experiencing bouts of occasional pain.

“Obviously, it’s a difficult injury because sometimes you feel good and sometimes it comes back,” said the 29-year old star. “Now, I’m better. I felt a little bit of pain in the second half (against New York), but it’s doing better (overall).”

Zelarayan first dealt with the issue March 20 near the end of a game against the New York Red Bulls in stoppage time. He was expected to miss 1-2 weeks, but started the next three games. After missing a game April 23 at Sporting Kansas City, Zelarayan returned to action by coming off the bench in a 3-0 win April 30 against D.C. United and then a 2-2 tie May 7 at New England Revolution.

The Crew’s leading scorer returned to the starting lineup in a 2-0 loss at New York City FC on May 14 and started again Saturday night against LAFC.

Columbus Crew forward Lucas Zelarayan adjusting to new lineup spot

During the Crew’s 2-0 road loss at NYCFC a week earlier, Zelarayan was deployed as a left winger rather than his usual spot at attacking midfielder.

Coach Caleb Porter was pleased with how the star forward handled the switch, which gives him strategic flexibility, but Zelarayan still prefers attacking from the middle full-time.

“I played as a wing there (in New York) and I had played as a wing before, but obviously I feel better playing as (an attacking mid-fielder) … being more free in the attack in the whole front of the attack,” said Zelarayan, who leads the Crew with four goals. “But, yes, I know that (left wing) position and I know I have to be able to play there if the team needs it. I talked with Caleb and sometimes we can change and have a different system and pick the right one, so it’s OK for me.”

Porter said Zelarayan is still able to attack the middle offensively and feels there isn’t too much of a difference starting his star playmaker on the left wing.

“Flexibility’s always really important,” Porter said. “I talked about that from Day 1 this preseason with this group, because we have a very deep roster and flexibility is important in this league, game in and game out. … I’m more of a guy that likes continuity and likes to execute, but I think when Lucas was out, the 4-3-3 made sense and we really felt like going into the game in New York City in keeping that strong middle on the near pitch and floating him wide was the right way to go.”

Columbus Crew captain Jonathan Mensah creates cheer with Nordecke fans during 'Project Jukebox' event

This week’s Nordecke “Project Jukebox” meeting had a different twist.

Crew captain Jonathan Mensah and Crew 2 captain Marco Micoletto joined the fans and helped create new in-game chants for the matchup against LAFC.

“It was great,” Mensah said. “I loved it. I think it’s always good to hang out with the fans. Obviously, we’ve got something special going. We want to keep building it and (bring it) to a capacity where everyone is invited, everyone is welcome to join the family. So, I believe going forward, more people will join and it’s going to be even more massive.”

Mensah was spotted scrawling out the words of a chant during the event, but declined to reveal any details about it following practice Friday at the OhioHealth Performance Center.

“It’s going to be a surprise, you know?” Mensah said, smiling. “Everyone was invited, so if you didn’t show up, I’m sorry right now … but get ready to hear something great.”

bhedger@dispatch.com

@BrianHedger

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Crew: LAFC scores twice in second half to win 2-0