The Columbus Crew has started off the season with two straight wins for the first time in club history. A road victory against the struggling DC United is one thing, but a 2-1 win at home, against a good Philadelphia Union side, is just the thing to bring the Crew back into the collective MLS minds.
The Crew season may have technically begun a couple of weeks ago in DC, but it never feels like it has truly started until the first home opener at Crew Stadium. The fans were in full voice on Saturday as the undefeated Crew took on the undefeated Philadelphia Union under the lights in Columbus. There was a lot of talk among the fans about this being the year that takes the Crew back to the heights of 2008. It’s being billed as a new era in Crew soccer, and new coach Gregg Berhalter seems ready to be the man to lead it.
Bernardo Anor was the man of the moment throughout the match and ended up scoring more than 1 goal in a game for the first time in his career. Anor has been slowly recovering from the ACL injury he sustained in 2012, and after a couple of good performances at the tail end of last season, he’ll probably be looking to make 2014 his best season yet for the Black and Gold.
His first goal, in the 24th minute, came from a Higuaincorner. 4 or 5 Crew players ran towards the near post, dragging defenders with them, and leaving Anor wide open at the back post to nod it past the Union defender on the line. Anor’ssecond goal, which came in first half stoppage time, was a beauty. It started with some good work from young Wil Trapp, winning the ball back from a Union player, and poking the ball into the path of the Venezuelan. Bernardo took the ball into space about 30 yards out and unleashed a left footed drive that nestled nicely into the side netting. It was a great goal, and it meant that the Crew went into the halftime interval up by 2, while producing the majority of the good play.
The second half was a different story however. Philadelphia came out ready to get back into the game. They tested Crew keeper Steve Clark on a couple of occasions, and got a goal backthrough substitute Leo Fernandes. The Crew defense looked shaky for a 20 minute spell in the middle of the half, but wasable to keep the Union from getting back on even terms.Dominic Oduro came on as a late substitute for the ineffective Jairo Arrieta and produced some promising moments. Odurowas such a huge part of Columbus’ game plan last year, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can reproduce the magic that made him last season’s top scorer.
In terms of the actual style of play, the Crew has looked very different under new coach Gregg Berhalter than they did under Warzycha last year. The most glaring difference is the positioning of Federico Higuain. For the vast majority of his MLS career, he’s played as almost a second striker. He was letting the midfield two behind him get him the ball, and trying to make things happen further up the pitch. This year, however, he’s played noticeably deeper. He’s picking the ball up directly from the center backs at times, and trying to influence the game in a more direct, authoritative manner. He was immaculate in the first game of the season at DC, and looked rejuvenated after some sluggish performances towards the end of last campaign.His performance on Saturday wasn’t quite up to the level of play that we all expect from him but he did make some pretty telling contributions (including the corner kick that led to the first goal), and it’ll be fun to see him progress in his new role.
Another area of difference is Wil Trapp. Everyone that has worked with the young man (whether with the US U-20 team, or with the Crew) has sung his praises, and it’s pretty easy to see why. He’s the fulcrum of the team, dropping in between the two center backs, constantly looking for the ball and making things happen in the usually congested area of the park. For such a young player to be playing so well in the area of the pitch that he’s operating in says a lot about him. He’s not just one for thefuture; he’s one for the present. As a direct result of his dropping deep, the two outside fullbacks have the license to push further up the pitch and provide the width for the two outside attackers (Anor and Jimenez) to roam inside and get the ball into dangerous positions. Berhalter has definitely put his mark on this team, and the Crew can now make a valid claim to be the most “watchable” team in the league.
Another Crew standout performer was goalkeeper Steve Clark. Clark made some great saves on McInerny and Fernandesin the second half and commanded his area with real authority.There was a lot of talk about how good Clark could be in the MLS after coming to the league from Norway. Most of the focuswas centered on the fact that not a lot of people knew about him or had seen him play. After 2 games between the posts for Columbus, he’s silenced the doubters. He’s a vocal presence behind the defense (which is a crucial part considering that 3 of the 4 defenders are new to the Crew this year) and he’s backing it up with some stellar play.
There is a lot to be excited about in Columbus when it comes to soccer. It’s all about this new era of Crew soccer, and it’s time for the Black and Gold to get back into Supporter Shield/MLS Cup contention. There have been too many wasted years in the recent past, and with the new owner and the new coach, I truly believe that this is the year that the MLS starts talking seriously about Ohio soccer.
(image courtesy of thecrew.com)