In a season that has been ugly, the Columbus Crew needed something sublime. Federico Higuain provided it. The Argentine scored two goals to power the home side to a 2-0 win over a thin Red Bulls side. His penalty may have been the difference maker, but it was the second that put the emphatic stamp on the game.
The script opened as usual. Another lineup, this time Danny O'Rourke and Matias Sanchez missing due to injury. Chad Barson and Justin Meram recalled from the deepest recesses of the bench. The Crew opens strong playing the ball around and getting off a few shots. 55% possession at half and 10 shots, including three on target.
A creeping doubt descends like the damp in an October drizzle. On schedule, there was the murmuring percolating in the crowd. The couple I heard were "They are going to let them back in this game" and "You just know the Crew are going give up a goal".
Then bang... a goal against. Jonny Steele jabs with a left footed to poke drive destined for the top center of the net. Matt Lampson is slow to respond, but here is where the script is thrown out. Lampson gets a hand on it and tips it off the crossbar.
The next minute, the Crew press down the field and Agustin Viana's hustle to a loose ball earns them a free kick. Higuain lofts another dangerous ball through the penalty area. Referee Allen Chapman sees a push from Markus Holgerson on Chad Marshall and calls the penalty. There has been more contact on dozens of plays this season, but Higuain accepts the gift and buries the spot kick. The Crew lead 1-0 with 30 to play.
Well, the Crew have been here before too. They gave up late leads against New England and Toronto to give back three points, but here is where something "especial" happens. Justin Meram toe pokes the ball from Andre Akpan at midfield. Higuain picks up a loose ball and plays a simple touch to Bernardo Anor. Anor plays a one touch pass to Wil Trapp. Trapp takes a touch past Akpan and the field opens up. The whole sequence takes five seconds.
During those five seconds, Higuain has turned back towards the New York goal and jogs. He then sees Trapp get the pass and breaks into a sprint. Higuain knows that the pass is coming. It doesn't matter that it hasn't more often than not this season. This time, that pass is coming. Trapp, with the ball at his feet and the field in front of him, makes the pass, the perfect pass. It catches the Argentine in stride and Higuain looks up and sees Luis Robles six yards off his line. With Markus Holgersson closing, he calmly chips the keeper.
Beginning to end, 11 seconds. The Red Bulls have gone from trying to claw back into the game to deflated. A Crew team struggling for confidence just cut through a team as if they were training cones in practice. With 15 minutes to go, this game is over. The Crew closed down any chance of collapse. New York could try to conjure some magic of their own, but this Black and Gold team wouldn't have any of it. MLSSoccer.com's instant standings could have been written in stone.
It was one of those nights where everything comes together. There were 19,080 in the stands. Anthony Precourt, the new owner, got his first taste of the Crew Stadium experience. Higuain supplied the exclamation point with a flash of absolute brilliance. There is energy in the stands and on the field. That seed of doubt is crushed by belief. It's Crew soccer at it's best and it's been a long time since that happened.