Columbus Crew SC defeated Orlando City SC in convincing fashion Saturday night, in what was the team's best performance of the season so far. The Lions came in confident after a 2-0 road win over the Portland Timbers the previous week, but Columbus had something to prove.
They say you can learn more away from a loss than a win, but that always seemed silly to me. With that said, let's take a look at what six things we learned from the 3-0 dismantling of the men in purple.
The Black and Gold Can Play Against 11 Men
Both wins for Crew SC this season have come against sides playing with 10 men for more than 45 minutes. While some will take this as a negative, I look at it as a positive. When given an advantage, head coach Gregg Berhalter's men have taken advantage.
What we saw on Saturday though was the team play well while Orlando was at full strength. The Black and Gold came out on fire, looking for the early goal. While they didn't finish, the attacking quartet caused issues for the Lion's defense that eventually led to the opening goal. Columbus was keeping the ball against the best ball-keeping team in the league and limiting Orlando's best player.
Unlike the win over Toronto FC earlier this season, Crew SC scored while at 11 v. 11. Although the other two goals came with the man advantage, it also required the attacking players to break down a defense that remained compact and beat one of the league's best goalkeepers twice more.
Good on ya Columbus.
The Defense Will be Just Fine
The Black and Gold have three shutouts this season. Two have come against 10-men sides and one against a New England Revolution team that looked pretty disinterested in offense on a windy day.
Crew SC fans have seen center backs Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz make mistakes that led directly to goals. While neither player has been called into question, the back line as a whole hasn't been consistently up to snuff defensively this year.
With that said, the unit played a nearly flawless game on Saturday night. Yes, Orlando City played the majority of the match with no true striker on the field, but the Lions did have former World Player of the Year Kaká leading the attack and kept him from being much of a factor in the game.
It was going to take time for Hernan Grana and Pogetetz to settle into the back line in this league and Waylon Francis missing time didn't help that. Saturday was the first-choice back line and they did a good job. Most importantly, they kept a clean sheet and helped earn three points.
Holy Kei Kamara
Count me in as one of the people who was worried about Kamara fitting in with this group. It's not that I doubted his ability, but I wasn't sure how he would fit into the system Berhalter installed in Columbus, playing as a lone striker and such.
Boy was I wrong.
Not only can Kamara play up top on his own, though he's never really on his own, but his experience playing all around the attacking front gives Crew SC a diversity it didn't have a year ago. Like Federico Higuain, Kamara pops up all over the pitch and his teammates are beginning to learn his movements. Justin Meram knows when to come central and fill the void, Higuain can get further in the attack at times when Kamara slides out wide, and Ethan Finlay can take advantage of the space left by the defender that tracks Kamara.
All of this and I haven't mentioned that goal. A great pass, a great run, and a perfectly placed chipped over one of MLS' biggest goalkeepers. That took some skill and some cojones.
It's Not a Trapp Without Wil Any More
In no way do I want to take anything away from Gahanna's own, but we're seeing a team that can play, and win, without Wil Trapp in the lineup.
The 22-year old is the starting defensive midfielder for Crew SC when healthy, and I wish him nothing but the best recovering from his concussion-like symptoms, but unlike a year ago, there is quality cover when he is unable to go in Mohammed Saeid.
Saeid played well against Toronto earlier in the season, but was still adjusting to his role. The natural central midfielder appears to have learned how to play Trapp's position, dropping in and providing cover when needed along the back line and really stifling the Lion's central midfield play. There were plenty of candidates for Man of the Match, but my vote went to Saeid, who quietly put in one of the best performances of the season for any player.
There is going to be more times this season when Columbus is without No. 20, whether it's national team commitments, injuries, suspensions, or a need for rest. While Trapp and Saeid each bring different skillsets when on the field, right now it doesn't look like the Black and Gold can go wrong either way.
Boy Am I Glad Grana's On Our Side
From the Orlando people I talked to throughout last week, I heard so much about Rafael Ramos and what a player he's been, that I began to believe Hernan Grana may have some competition for the best attacking right back on the field in this contest.
Take the red card out of it and Grana was still a better player. On the attacking side, I thought he was much more involved, serving seven (credited) crosses into the penalty area and completing nearly 83 percent of his 41 passes.
Defensively, Ramos gave the ball away to Finlay and failed to stay with Higuain for the goal, getting nutmegged by Pipa's flick. I also thought he got caught forward at times with no cover in behind.
Don't get me wrong, the 20-year old Ramos has a lot of potential, but right now he is still finding his game and adjusting to MLS. Grana is much more experienced and that showed Saturday night.
With Crew SC Comes Pretty Goals
Last year, the Crew played some attractive soccer and that carried over to this year. But Crew SC has added to that, scoring some nice goals.
All three goals in this match were a joy to behold. There was the Pipa flick, the Pipa chip imitation by Kamara, and even Meram's goal was a nice move to create space before he showed off the power of his leg.
Columbus has some dangerous attacking options that can score in a plethora of ways. And we haven't even seen all of it, as another creative, attacking player like Kristinn Steindorsson is yet to break through.
They haven't always scored, but when they do, it's pretty.