Once upon a time, it was all about attractive soccer for Columbus Crew SC. Those days aren’t gone, but the team has found other ways to get the job done.
Perhaps no example demonstrates this as much as Saturday night when, despite conceding an early goal, the Black & Gold battled back to take a halftime lead and closed things down in the second half en route to a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC.
Toronto bossed the game throughout the early portions, pressuring high and not letting Crew SC build out of the back.
That pressure paid off in the 21st minute when Jozy Altidore shrugged off Columbus left back Jukka Raitala and won a TFC corner. The forward out-jumped his marker, Ola Kamara, and headed home the opening goal.
The Reds stayed dangerous, but it was the Black & Gold that struck next through rookie Niko Hansen.
After being the brightest attacking option over the first half an hour of the match, Hansen took a Federico Higuain pass down the sideline, spread Toronto defender Justin Morrow’s legs with a couple step overs before threading a nutmeg pass to Kamara at the back post, which the forward easily finished to level the match.
The 37th minute goal brought life to Crew SC, who went on to take the lead before the half.
On this finish, Higuain’s corner found central defender Alex Crognale rising in the air to head it on frame. Whether the rookie’s shot would have found the back of the net, we will never know as winger Justin Meram was in the right place to side-foot the effort home.
Both teams created chances in the second half, but nothing overly dangerous as the Black & Gold saw out the 2-1 home victory and climbed back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Adjusting on the fly
It was not often last season when Crew SC struggled early and turned things around. When the team did make adjustments, it was often followed by halftime or an extended delay in the match.
Against Toronto, the Black & Gold looked poor and gave up the first goal early, but saw what wasn’t working and fixed it. Over the final 20 minutes or so of the first half, Columbus took control of the game, winning back possession of the ball and scoring both the team’s goals.
This is progress.
The difference of Higuain
We discussed last week how different Crew SC is without Higuain on the field. In Saturday’s win, you saw evidence of what the team can be with him.
Not only did Pipa get two assists in the game, but the attacking midfielder was all over the field, constantly providing an option for his teammates. As he found space to receive the ball, the game opened up and that’s when the Black & Gold fought back.
He may not be able to go 90 minutes in every contest any more, but Higuain is a fun player to watch and he is the motor behind Crew SC.
After talking all year about defensive struggles in 2016, the script has flipped this season. Columbus is not only are keeping the ball out of the net more frequently, but there’s a belief that the team can shut things down and close out matches when needed.
A year ago, that simply wasn’t happening. There was often more a feeling that the backline would concede in the second half and cost the team rather than rescue three points — or a point — for it.
Against TFC, the defensive effort in the second half was evident and that made all the difference. Sure, Toronto had some chances, finishing the game with an astounding 19 shots, but rarely was the goal in major threat.
In a tight Eastern Conference, it won’t be often that Crew SC gets a break. Next week sees Columbus travel to take on the New York Red Bulls who currently sit just three points back of the Black & Gold.
Following a 2-0 win over D.C. United this week, the Red Bulls will be looking to add to their point total on the season and join Crew SC at the top of the East.