This MLS season now feels official after 2 consecutive west coast road games for the Crew. In a round of games dubbed “Rivalry Week”, Columbus played their home opener against a team from the opposite side of the country. Despite the freezing weather, more than 16,000 fans showed up at Crew Stadium against the 2012 Supporters Shield winner San Jose Earthquakes. The Crew started off in its expected lineup without Eddie Gaven, who missed his second straight game due to Injury, with home grown youngster Ben Speas taking his place.
The game was back and forth for most of the first half and both teams had spells of possession around the edge of the penalty box that they couldn’t convert. It was always going to be tough for the Crew defense to keep Chris Wondolowski quiet, but Chad Marshall and company managed to keep his influence on the game minimal. In terms of possession, the Crew fared well (52%), but the Quakes were able to win the chances created statistic. Wondo had a great chance in the first half, with a drive and shot from the top of the box, but Andy Gruenebaum made an excellent catch to stop last season’s Golden boot winner. After halftime, Columbus responded with some sustained pressure and tested goalie Jon Busch on a few occasions. They finally put the ball in the back of the net with a Glauber header from a Federico Higuain corner. The Nordecke went crazy, and the Crew went on top. But the Earthquakes would equalize minutes later through Ohio native Justin Morrow. His left footed drive to the far post beat Gruenebaum in the 73rd minute and tied the game up. The Crew goalkeeper, after the game, lamented that he should have done better with the shot after getting a fingertip to the ball. The goal seemed to spur the visitors on, and they crafted a few great opportunities to leave Ohio with all 3 points. An excellent goal line clearance from Marshall and a few shots that flew past the post made the Crew supporters a little anxious as the final minutes went by. But in the end, the game ended 1-1, and both teams took a share of the points.
As far as stand out performers, San Jose’s Rafael Baca’s name is one of the first on that list. With all the attention on Wondo, the Mexican was able to find a lot of space and the Crew midfield pair of Viana and O’Rourke weren’t able to get close enough to disrupt his passing. He dictated the play, played some great balls out to the two Earthquake strikers and was the most positive midfield player going forward. For the Crew, forward Jairo Arrieta showed a lot of industry and worked the San Jose center backs well throughout the game. Also, for the second straight week, a huge Crew bright spot was Ben Speas. He has taken his opportunity in the first team well and has been massively impressive. His link up play with Higuain and Arrieta is superb and will definitely be a player to watch for this upcoming season. Another notable performance came from second half substitute Ethan Finlay. His endeavor to get to the byline led to the corner that Glauber converted for the Crew opener and made an instant impact from the subs bench. Lastly, I was disappointed with Dominic Oduro. His first touch was poor and he will need to improve if he wants to keep his starting position in the team.
Overall, the Crew had a lot of positives to dwell on, but were undone by a failure to close down for the Quakes goal and a lack of mental strength to hold onto the lead. The Crew’s proclivity to give up late game leads last year is back and that’s bad news for Crew fans. If the Crew wants to legitimately challenge for the upper echelon of the MLS, they need to be better able to protect a lead once they get it. Both the Crew and San Jose are now 1-1-1 after 3 games, and firmly in the playoff race. The Crew’s next game is away in DC United, before another home game with the Philadelphia Union in early April.
(image courtesy of USA Today Sports)