Columbus Crew SC went into RFK Stadium winless on the season, facing a D.C. United team that had an identical 0-1-1 record. The Black & Gold left with the full three points after a convincing 2-0 win.
Both teams had early chances, getting looks from within the opponent’s penalty area, but each side was stymied from close range.
Crew SC finally broke through thanks to a penalty kick earned by forward Ola Kamara after the 37th minute. Playmaking midfielder Federico Higuain stepped up and beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid with a low, hard shot into the bottom corner.
The Black & Gold were again awarded a penalty 21 minutes into the second half, once again courtesy of Ola Kamara’s efforts. This time, the forward was the spot kick taker, narrowly beating Hamid for the 2-0 lead.
Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen was called into action in the 70th minute. On a United free kick played into the penalty box, Patrick Nyarko headed a ball on frame that the 21 year old dove to his left to save.
Following the victory, Crew SC now sits on four points, headed back home with two straight games at MAPFRE Stadium. That stretch begins next week when the Portland Timbers come to Columbus.
A new-look Crew SC
With Jonathan Mensah suspended after being given a red card last week, head coach Gregg Berhalter elected to switch up formations to a 3-4-2-1 that the team practiced during the preseason.
Veteran defender Josh Williams made his season debut — in his second stint with the Black & Gold — while rookie Alex Crognale stepped in at the center of the three-man back line. Winger Ethan Finlay also moved to the bench to make room for the wingbacks, Harrison Afful on the right and Jukka Raitala on the left.
The new look was productive for Columbus, who defended well yet were still able to play their possession, attacking style.
A big part of Crew SC’s first shutout in five games dating back to last season was the combination of Steffen and Crognale.
Steffen earned the starting goalkeeper spot in the preseason and had been inconsistent in his first two games as a professional. Crognale, a Homegrown product out of Gahanna, made his debut after signing with the team in the offseason.
The two looked very comfortable together for the Black & Gold, having played over 30 games together during their college careers at Maryland.
While Crognale likely will go back to a reserve role after this game when Jonathan returns from his suspension, it’s good to see these two playing well together, as they are the future of Columbus defensive efforts.
After Crew SC traded Kei Kamara early last season, Ola — no relations — came in and was one of the best forwards in the league in 2016.
The forward had one of the best goals per minute average in MLS last year at one finish every 116 minutes. With his penalty kick finish on Saturday, he maintains that average.
Kamara now has two goals in three games played in 2017.
Higuain was disappointing in his first game. He was better against the Houston Dynamo last week, but had little to show for it.
In this contest, Pipa not only scored the game winner from the penalty spot, but was once again a creative playmaker. He played the ball that led to Kamara going down in the box for the first spot kick and was active and impressive all night.
After missing most of last season with an injury, Higuain looked hungry in the preseason, and tonight that reflected in the regular season.
United’s Steve Birnbaum had a game to forget.
The D.C. defender conceded both of the penalty kicks, which is hard to do in one game, and did not play well all around.
The Black & Red have now given up six goals in the last two games after earning a shutout in the season opener.