The Columbus Crew has started the season undefeated at 3-0-0 and continues to improve the record for best start to a season in club history. The black and gold played in front of a very hostile crowd in Seattle on Saturday night and came away with all 3 points in a combative match.
It was a big day for ex Crew MLS Cup winning defender Chad Marshall, playing the Crew for the first time since his summer move. Marshall played in Columbus for 10 seasons and collected 1 MLS Cup, 3 Supporter’s shields and 2 MLS Defender of the Year awards. He will always be loved in Ohio, and it was admittedly weird to see him donning the green kit of the Sounders. Seattle was also without Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans, two of their star players, through injury/suspension. The Crew played the same starting XI as the game against the Union, except that Dominic Oduro started up top instead of Jairo Arrieta.
The game started at a pretty frenetic pace, with the Seattle defense staying very deep. This was probably a deliberate tactic, trying to negate Oduro’s run in behind the defense. For the most part, it worked and the Crew had to work very hard to create any chances in a crowded first half. Of course, while playing deep, they also left some outlets up the pitch and were a constant threat on the break throughout the entire first half. The Crew midfield (Tchani and Wil Trapp being the main culprits) was giving the ball away in very bad situations, causing some great Seattle counter attacks. The Crew fullbacks (especially Francis) are pushing very high up on the pitch and it was allowing players like Neagle and Cooper to break in behind in the space vacated by the Crew defenders. The opening goalcame on said counter attack, and Kenny Cooper was able to score the opener past a helpless Steve Clark.
The game completely changed after halftime, in the 58th minute, when Dominic Oduro was taken out in the box for a penalty. It was also a red card to Djimi Traore and there is probably a reason to be aggrieved if you are a Seattle fan. The contact was minimal, and Oduro was still able to get off a pretty decent shot, but the referee decided that the contact was enough to put off the Ghanaian. But even if the red card was a contentious, there was nothing contentious about the Higuainfinish for the penalty. Pipa blasted it into the back of the net and the Crew was right back in the driver’s seat.
The penalty and red card came at a crucial point in the match, right after halftime when Seattle was looking to put their foot down on the accelerator of the match. Then, as the game was winding down, coach Berhalter put on Justin Meram. It was a substitution thatturned out to be the difference maker. He came onto the pitch forWil Trapp, perhaps trying just another throw of the dice in terms of attack for the Crew, but his right footed shot deep in stoppage time eluded all Seattle defenders and hit the back of the net.Higuain had the presence of mind to take the short corner, and the Seattle defense switched off at the worst possible time.
After playing so much of the match with one extra man, the relief was palpable when Justin Meram’s shot arrowed into the top corner. Justin has been putting in a ton of work off the field by all accounts, and it’s great to see him exude so much joy when he scored. The entire squad looks like a complete team, fighting for each other for the entirety of the 90 minutes. It has to be down to the Berhalter factor. He’s come into the team, and immediately instilled a substantial sense of belief and confidence throughout the squad. The Columbus Crew issuddenly relevant league wide, and it feels good to be a supporter once again.
As each match goes by, it’s becomes increasingly more apparent how great of a goalkeeper Steve Clark is. He made 4 or 5 great saves to deny Seattle increasing their lead in the first half, and the Crew has him to thank for the win. He was such an unknown commodity when he first came into the league andthere were some question marks surrounding him, but his performances so far have more than quieted the critics. He’s become one of the most reliable keepers in the league after only 3 games.
The Crew has now won 3 straight games, and will look to continue the run at home on Saturday against the resurgent Toronto FC. It’s a huge game, not just because both teams have been playing well at the start of the season, but for Trillium Cup bragging rights. Let’s stay Massive Columbus.
(image courtesy of thecrew.com)