Derrick Etienne Jr. leaned over with his hands on his knees. Beside him, Saad Abdul-Salaam stood upright and gazed out onto the field. The two of them were watching another opponent come into Field and beat the Columbus Crew.

After conceding an early goal, the Crew trailed 3-1 before two disallowed goals and a converted penalty kick led to a 3-2 defeat against Atlanta United FC its first win over the Black & Gold since 2018.

“The first thing I want to say is there are a lot more positives in the game than you might think,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “I know people don’t like to hear positives after a loss, but there were a lot of positives today and we can’t lose sight of that. We cannot lose sight of that. I can’t fault the players’ effort at all, they gave everything they had today, they fought ‘til the end again. I thought we’d get the third goal, we were unlucky not to, that last chance from Saad to Darlington (Nagbe). It was a game where we didn’t get anything to go our way, and sometimes you have games like that.”

WATCH | Caleb Porter following defeat to Atlanta United

The Crew found themselves trailing in the fifth minute when a clever George Bello backheel slotted Ezequiel Barco into space for the opening goal. Thirty minutes later, Barco scored from a penalty doubling the Columbus deficit.

But Crew captain Jonathan Mensah was able to pull one back two minutes later when he guided a header past Brad Guzan for a second-straight goal against Atlanta. Both were from corners played into the box by Lucas Zelarayán.

It looked like the Black & Gold found an equalizer early in the second half, but Luis Díaz’s goal was disallowed for being offside. Following a Marcelino Moreno penalty in the 65th to make it 3-1, Etienne Jr. thought he had his first league goal of the season when he sent a shot past Guzan at the near post. But after a VAR review, the goal was disallowed for being offside.

Pedro Santos would later score from a 91st-minute penalty – the third between the two teams – and the Crew had more attacking chances, but they were unable to break the Five Stripes down.

“We’re scoring goals right now — I'm happy with that – but we have a few guys that aren’t in form and a few guys that aren’t confident right now,” Porter said. “So, it’s my job to figure that out and to try to get those guys playing well. Because for sure I take responsibility for that. Whether it’s training, whether it’s messages, you do get sometimes players that dip in form. It happens, and we’re seeing that a little bit right now. When you look at those goals, we’ve given up in the last three (matches), most of them are individual.”

When the Crew beat Atlanta two weeks ago in at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Porter raved about his team and said it was one of the strongest locker rooms he’s ever coached. With such a tight-knit group, the impression was that the Black & Gold could get through anything together.

If Porter’s words ring true, the Crew have time to correct individual mistakes, deliver a winning performance and to continue growing together. Following the loss to Atlanta, the club has a week of rest before playing at Chicago Fire FC next Sunday night.

In a seven-day span, they’ll play three matches. While the club has taken no points from its last three matches, that doesn’t mean they can’t have nine from three games two weeks from today.

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