In the Restaurant world there are things called “soft openings” and this is when a new establishment opens its doors and warns the customers that they are still trying to work out the kinks on the new business. This is essentially what Columbus Crew SC did in Houston a week ago. Columbus put on its new crest for the first time and welcomed several offseason additions to the starting lineup and did just about everything right except for put the ball in the net. A loss was not the way the new look Crew wanted to start the season but a “soft opening” could be swallowed with the Grand Opening of MAPFRE Stadium just a week away…
And Grand is exactly what is was, as almost 16 thousand came out to see what this new look Columbus Crew SC was going to bring to the field this season as they took on their rivals from the North, Toronto FC. Two changes to the starting lineup from the previous week in Houston proved to be the game changers, Justin Meram replaced Kristinn Steindorsson in the attacking midfield role and Mohammed Saeid was tabbed to replace suspended midfield enforcer Tony Tchani.
Saeid had some big shoes to fill, standing almost a foot shorter than Tchani, and he filled them in excellent fashion. Saeid used his quickness to the ball and beautiful first touch to run circles around the Toronto defense and cause them a world of frustration for the entire time he was on the pitch. Meram left his mark on the game and the scoreboard when he opened the scoring for the season on a beautiful header served to him by Ethan Finaly at the end of his fantastic run down the right flank. After the goal, Meram pointed to the name on the back of his jersey almost as if to say, “hey I just notched the first goal of the season, keep me in the starting lineup” to the Crew SC staff… a position he should have for now but will be in a constant battle with Steindorsson for a majority of the season.
After having numerous chances to score in the first three halves of the season Kei Kamara scored to put the Crew SC ahead 2-0 just four minutes after Meram gave them the lead. Waylon Francis served up a perfect cross from his left win back position and Kamara got just enough of his boot on the ball to put it between the keepers legs and into the net while he ran to dawn a yellow hard hat with two passerbys to pay homage to the three working men from the old Crew SC crest.
Hernan Grana made almost every Crew SC supporter ponder back to the good ol days where there was a long haired right back streaking up and down the sideline in between attempts to pump up the crowd and slide tackle just about anyone that stood in his way. Grana is able to quickly get forward with the ball in the attacking third but is not easily beaten in defense, especially with Parkhurst leading the defense. Although Grana was not on the score sheet this match, it will only be a matter of time before he puts his right boot on a cross off head of Kamara and into the opposing goal. Game Grade: A
The Columbus Crew SC defensive unit has the chance to bring in the hardware this year for the black and gold. Captain, Miachael Parkhurst, leads the unit and has a sixth sense to know where he and the rest of the back line need to be to keep the team out of danger. This unit was able to completely shut out Jozy Altidore, who one week prior scored two goals and made everyone think he was on pace to be the next goal scoring king. Parkhurst and crew were also able to keep Michael Bradley in check the entire game, which is something that they struggled with just a year ago. Game Grade: B –giving them a B because there were too many potential goal scoring chances at the death of the match to warrant an A
Kai Kamara’s goal celebration was one for the ages in concept but in delivery it fell short. Yes, it does take guts to have props ready for when one does net a goal but having two random people be in on it instead of two of the players kind of took the wind out of the sails. Kamara has said that he has plenty of goal scoring celebrations up his sleeves, so if this is just the first than the fans are going to have high expectations for the next 23 celebrations. Celebration Grade: B-
Columbus Crew SC announced prior to the match that it has picked up Gregg Berhalter’s option for next season, securing him as the coach for another year. Clearly management has a lot of trust that A) last year’s success and third place finish was no fluke. And B) that the off season acquisitions are going to turn into wins and trophies… I could not agree more. Grade: AWESOME