Full disclosure, I am writing this article as a Columbus Crew SC fan. If you want impartial analysis, tough noogies, you're not going to get it here. The following is the ramblings of a fan who is starting to see the vision of Anthony Precourt and Gregg Berhalter take shape. My only regret is that I have a limited space to gloat and can't include everything I saw in a completely dominant performance by the Black & Gold.
1. Welcome to Columbus, Mohammed Saeid
Where does Berhalter find these guys? Mohammed Saeid put Sebastian Giovinco in his pocket the entire time he was on the field. Here is the heat map of this off seasons "most important signing in the MLS" according the @MLStransfers
It's blue. It's freezing! Saeid did his best Gandalf vs. the Balrog impression against Giovinco and the rest of Toronto FC Saturday night. Legend has it that if you stand at the top of Columbus' defensive third you can still hear Saeid shouting "You shall not pass!" I cannot find adequate statistics to illustrate Saeid's dominance. The eye test proved, however, that wherever a Toronto FC player wanted to be, he was their first, if they wanted the ball, he got it first, and if Giovinco wanted to influence the game Saeid told him to kindly see himself out.
Saeid has earned his place in Crew SC folklore after only 76 minutes of play.
2. Columbus Crew SC completely outworked Toronto FC
Perhaps the slogan "America's hardest working team" was thrown out a little too early. From the opening whistle it was clear Crew SC had no intention of losing to Toronto FC again. Crew SC dominated aerial duels winning 68%, and they won 6 of 6 "take ons." Crew SC players ran to open balls faster, darted to open spaces on offense, covered gaps on defense, and played in an overall higher gear on the night. In a sentence: they wanted it more.
The defining moment for me was late in the game when Crew SC were already up 2-0 and up a man. An errant pass was rolling harmlessly out of bounds on the right sideline by a Crew SC player. No Toronto FC player was within 20 yards, and a throw in from the top of the Crew SC's defensive third would have been easily defended. But before the ball could reach the sideline Hernan Grana sprinted over and made a sliding stop just before the ball crossed the line. This action retained possession for the Crew SC and allowed them to continue to dictate the game. With a 2-0 lead and less than 15 minutes remaining there was simply no need for this effort, but Grana (who has proven himself to be a workhorse) knows his job and does not take plays off.
This tireless hustle, and for lack of a better phrase, "Give-a-damn" is what won the night for Columbus.
3. The red card didn't influence the result
There. I Said it. And I can prove it. Or perhaps more importantly, you can't prove otherwise.
Look at the first half possession stats:
That's a lot of yellow. Possession isn't everything, but this graphic hints at the total dominance of Crew SC even before the red card. Columbus Crew SC created more chances, won more duels, showed more creativity on and off the ball, and spent nearly the entire half in Toronto FC's defensive third. It was only a matter of time before Columbus broke through.
When the red card came the Black & Gold smelled blood and attacked as if they took the foul against Ethan Finlay personally. Toronto FC, on the other hand, were handed adversity and cowered in their own 18 yard box. I don't buy the argument that "if Toronto FC would have had 11 men they could have bunkered down effectively and prevented a goal" This is no way to for a team with MLS Cup aspirations to play against their rivals. From the outset, Toronto FC played scared and Columbus made them pay. 12 men wouldn't have been enough against Columbus Crew SC last night.
4. The center of Crew SC dominated one of the best attacks in MLS
Justin Meram won Man of the Match, but for me the men of the match were Saeid, Wil Trapp, Michael Parkhurst, and Emanuel Pogatetz. The four of them frustrated and deflated one of the MLS' best attacks.
Saeid and Trapp were a blockade in the midfield. Bradley, Giovinco and the rest of Toronto FC had no answers on how to move the ball through them, so they tried to move the ball over them. This was equally ineffective as Parkhurst and Pogatetz were ready and willing to clear nearly every areal ball that came their way. Toronto FC was only able to launch three shots from inside the 18 yard box. All three were easily saved be Steve Clark. The suffocating play of the center of the field caused Toronto FC to make mental mistakes all evening.
The center of the Crew SC's defense and midfield was so strong that Altidore had to routinely drop back into his own defensive third to touch the ball. This, of course, rendered him useless because any Toronto FC player in front of Saeid on the night didn't live to tell the tail.
5. Berhalter knows how to build a roster
There's the easy way, then there's the right way. When the Toronto FC roster and the Crew SC roster are compared there is no contest over which is which. Toronto likely spends twice the Crew SC's payroll on Bradley alone. Factor in high-priced talent Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco and the wage bill for Toronto FC is probably close to 5 times Crew SC's. What does all this money get Toronto FC? A 2-0 butt woopin'.
While Toronto FC was winning the offseason, Berhalter was signing players like Grana, Kristinn Steindorsson, and Saeid. Factor in other players he has brought in during his tenure (Steve Clark, Waylon Francis, Emanuel Pogatetz, Michael Parkhurst, Kei Kamara) and it becomes apparent Berhalter's talent evaluation is brilliant. It is unclear if other MLS teams had interest in these players, but the safe bet is for most of this list they didn't. Gregg Berhalter knows what he wants out of his team, and he and the scout team have plucked the perfect players out of the world's roster. This team is masterfully built not bought.
6. There were not nearly enough people at MAPFRE Stadium to witness it
The announced attendance was 15,000 and change. When you factor in 450 or so of those are Toronto FC fans, it is a showing that is simply not good enough. This team puts in the effort at home to make MAPFRE Stadium a fortress. It is time we as a city did the same.