There's the old adage, "Sometimes all a soccer match needs is a two hour lightning delay to really get the ball rolling." This proved true Wednesday night at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, as severe weather mandated a one hour and fifty-five delay. When the game resumed, it had been transformed from a dull, lifeless affair to an actual, honest-to-goodness soccer match.
Justin Meram opened the scoring for the home side in the 41st minute, tucking home a nice pass from Emil Larsen, who didn't receive an assist due to an initial tackle from a Rowdies defender. Meram, who started as a striker rather than his usual wide-left position floated to the touchline often, cutting back in to spearhead the attack. Before the lightning delay the Crew SC offense never got going, unable to develop a rhythm. The Rowdies had the only real chances of the opening stanza, but failed to truly threaten Brad Stuver's goal.
After the match resumed, however, the Black & Gold came out looking like a team that wanted to play. There was a noticeable improvement almost immediately from the restart. An energy that was entirely lacking in the first portion of the match came to fruition with the Meram goal. Chad Barson played a ball along the ground to Larsen on the left edge of the box and the attacker tried to pull it back for Meram. A defender got a foot in, but Meram stuck with it and finished calmly.
This momentum continued after the abbreviated halftime break. Just three minutes into the second half, Waylon Francis crossed the ball in from the wing, where it was met by Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram's halftime replacement, who produced a classy backheel to the awaiting Cristian Martinez. The nice move was finished with a confident volley from the 19-year old playing in only his second competitive match with the club.
Another youngster, Rodrigo Saravia, continued the attacking play in the 51st minute, taking a nice touch to beat a defender in the box, who then fouled him, earning Crew SC a penalty. Finlay stepped up to the spot and converted to make the lead three.
But in a night (eventually) filled with attractive, attacking soccer, the best moment was the fourth goal. Marshall Hollingsworth, the Crew's second round Superdraft pick who made his first competitive appearance for Columbus, scored on his debut. His whole family was amongst the 1,064 who braved the humid, muggy night to see the match, and after he scored, the roar from the stands sounded like one from a much larger crowd. He ran to the sidelines, arms aloft.
Following the fourth goal, the match broke down slightly, tempers flaring. There were a few scuffles between the Black & Gold and Rowdies, including an instance where Crew coach Gregg Berhalter exchanged words with a Rowdies player. The only real goalmouth action over the final period was a chance to the visitors, with forward Georgi Hirstov forcing a good save out of Brad Stuver.
Crew SC saw it through to the end, however, holding on to the clean sheet and advancing to the last sixteen of the U.S. Open Cup. The draw for the next round is Thursday, June 16th, so the Black & Gold won't have to wait long to find out their next opponent. The Round of Sixteen commences on June 29th. Stay tuned to Massive Report for full coverage.