Rocket City Recap: Huntsville falls 3-4 to Columbus Crew 2

Most of us were in the Music City watching Nashville SC draw 2-2 with the defending MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew on Saturday night. However, a couple hours south, Huntsville was granted a similar opportunity against 2022 MLS Next Pro Champions Columbus Crew 2.

The game finished 4-3 in favor of the visitors, but in those seven goals came a lot of things to note for the future. However, before we talk about the seven goals, we need to talk about the seven players injured and how that affected the lineup.

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In addition to the likes of Forster Ajago, Joey Skinner, Woobens Pacius, and Julian Gaines missing with injury, Chris Applewhite and Charly Dealmonte are with Nashville’s U-17s at the Generation adidas Cup. Ben Martino, who had started the prior two matches, was in Nashville with the first team because of Joe Willis’ red card against LAFC.

The lineup was always going to be radically different from the week prior, but truthfully, I was pleasantly surprised with the direction Jack Collison took. Five of the starting eleven were academy products – Adem Sipić, Scott Cheevers, Jake Grekowicz, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez and Isaiah Jones. Dominic Wilson also came on for the last 8 minutes to make it a total of six players from the Goldmine to see the pitch. In fact, Jonathan Bolaños and Joel Sangwa were the only players in the starting lineup over the age of 23.

As I mentioned last week, there’s a balance to be found between being a Nashville talent factory and a distinct brand for Huntsville to latch onto, and this week, Jack Collison leaned more to the former.

Onto the game itself, Columbus struck twice early on, first off a good delivery from a corner in the seventh minute, and then again in the 10th. The entire backline struggled, and honestly it should’ve been four if not for two excellent kick saves from Grekowicz.

In the 37th minute, Izzy Johnston dribbled past four Crew 2 defenders and lashed an effort just outside the box that hit the underside of the crossbar, and from the broadcast angle clearly crossed the line. Unfortunately, the assistant referee didn’t have a good angle on it, and the goal wasn’t given. However, that decision mattered very little as Jonathan Bolaños would score just over a minute later to halve the deficit going into the break.

Fresh out of the locker room, it was Bolaños again winning a penalty in the 49th minute, and scoring it himself. It was a good move by Bolaños, finding a bit of space and drawing contact. However, six minutes later in the 55th, Isaiah Jones gave away a penalty of his own to the visitors, that they dispatched to restore their lead.

Jones really struggled at right back in this game, getting beat pretty decisively for both Columbus’ second and third goals. Again, the minutes he’s getting are nice, but from a perspective of trying to win the game, all Huntsville can do is hope he gets a hang of it while Makel Rasheed continues rehab from his knee injury.

Luckily, in both instances, Bolaños was there to bail Huntsville out, getting on the end of a long ball from Brennan Creek, taking a touch with his head around a defender, and equalizing once more to complete his hat trick in the 58th minute.

The frantic pace of the game wasn’t finished however, with Columbus taking the lead right back in the 69th minute.

For the final 20 minutes, Huntsville chased the game, and both teams had a handful of chances. The result was sealed, however, with Kessy Coulibaly’s DOGSO red card with just a few seconds left in stoppage time.

As far as performances, the players, other than Jonathan Bolaños of course, that weren’t defenders all played pretty well I thought. The record will show Jake Grekowicz conceded four goals, but one was a penalty, and the other three were all 1v1 situations. Grekowicz even saved a couple 1v1s as mentioned earlier. Crew 2 could have scored many more than just four, and Grekowicz’s backline was putting him in incredibly compromising positions time and time again.

Izzy Johnston and Brennan Creek were both constantly creating, and so too were Bolaños, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez, Maximus Ekk and Ollie Wright once he came on. Alexis Cerritos looked lively when he came on, as did Adem Sipić, even if he wasn’t able to put away any of the three or four clear cut chances he had.

At this point, I think it’s clear that the defending issues Huntsville had last season have carried over into this campaign. That’s to be expected – Huntsville have a lot of very young defenders and are fairly rarely going to be able to settle into a backline that can form any kind of continuity. But it is something to keep an eye on. Are they going to have to score two or three goals every game to have a shot?

It looks as though Huntsville has the attacking and creative talent to do that, but that’s still a big ask to be able to do it 34 consecutive times.

Author: Ronan Briscoeis a contributor for Broadway Sports, and a founding contributor at SoundwaveSoccer.com, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC and Nashville's youth academy.

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