After a winless trip to Brazil, Columbus Crew SC finally recorded a win in the opener to the Carolina Challenge Cup against Atlanta United two goals to one. Atlanta’s Josef Martinez opened the scoring while Federico Higuain scored a brace to give Crew SC the edge.
Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said that he’d play a mixed group during the first two games of the tournament and it showed from the lineup. After talk of a three man back line, the formation was Berhalter’s usual 4-2-3-1.
Regulars Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, Wil Trapp, and Nico Naess joined Higuain in the lineup while the newcomers and rookies filled out the eleven. Vying for a starting spot, Mohammed Abu, Jukka Raitala, and Zack Steffen joined the lineup as several other regulars were given the afternoon off after a morning scrimmage against Coastal Carolina.
The Atlanta goal came off some weak defense with several Crew SC players failing to pressure the ball, leaving Tito Villalba to get a cross to Martinez for the quick score in the 6th minute.
Crew SC would shake off the slow start to start attacking in earnest with Finlay and Jahn getting off shots within the first 15 minutes, but not being able to beat the Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann. Higuain, Meram, and Finlay would also get off shots as the half drew to a close, but failed to truly test Kann as the half came to a close.
Columbus would keep pressing for a equalizer and it would come in the 57th minute off a bit of individual hustle from Higuain and a bit of luck. The Argentine closed down the keeper, who took his time to size up his boot upfield. Higuain would block the kick and see it carom back and into the Atlanta goal.
It would be Higuain just minutes later to give Crew SC the lead. In the 62nd minute, Meram took the ball on the left side of the 18 yard box and poked a driven cross into the penalty area. Higuain met the ball with a diving header to complete the comeback.
Columbus would then slowly close out the match with a combination of possession and defense that was often missing in 2016. The only sub being Alex Crognale replacing Higuain in the 73rd minute.
Attention now turns to Wednesday’s matchup against the host Charleston Battery. Crew SC will continue to hone their execution while the try to settle on a lineup for opening day.