It was a roller coaster of a ride for Crew SC as they headed north to Montreal to take on the Impact. Two goals in the first half set them in good stead, but Montreal dominated the second half. As the 90th minute hit it was all square at 2-2 but Justin Meram’s third goal came just in time, lifting the Crew to three much needed points. Here are six thoughts.
The Lion of Mesopotamia Roars
Justin Meram continued his fantastic start to the season with his first career hat trick, scoring twice in the first half and a stoppage time winner. Meram’s first goal was a solo effort in the 14th minute, which really came against the run of play. The second came after a very strange play that saw Jonathan Mensah dribble in to the attacking half, try to play a pass inside instead of a simple pass outside, have the ball break to Meram, who then slotted it home. The third was a nice one-two with Niko Hansen who unselfishly laid off to Justin to stroke it home, silencing the Montreal crowd.
Meram was the only real bright spot of the Crew’s day offensively. All five of his shots were on target, and he was second on the team in touches with 65, behind only Hector Jimenez. Meram’s heat map showed he was drifting inside, where he tends to be most effective, and his herculean performance was the difference, earning him a perfect 10.0 rating on WhoScored. It’s rare that one player can single-handedly (or footedly) be the deciding factor on the pitch, but on this occasion Justin Meram fit that bill perfectly.
Surely Justin’s mother approved.
The Result That Flattered The Performance
This past week head coach Gregg Berhalter said that he thought his team played well enough to win against Toronto in mid-week, but they just didn’t get the result. “That’s soccer.” He said. Tonight in Montreal his team was outplayed in just about every way possible, except on the score-sheet. They were out-possessed 60%-40%, out-passed 83%-71%, and out-shot 24-10. Even in the first half, when Crew SC took a 2-0 lead, they were out possessed and failed to really control the match. The second half followed a similar pattern, but with the added edge of Montreal’s shots beginning to actually test Zack Steffen rather than go high and wide. For much of the second half Crew SC could hardly get on the ball, and were hard-pressed to string more than two passes together. It was a very un-Berhalterian performance, and there were some real causes for concern. But at the end of the evening Crew SC ended up with three points, so the team will leave happy, even though they were out-played. That’s soccer.
Berhalter Let off the Hook
As I said above, Crew SC struggled to get any sort of attack going in the second half. They couldn’t keep the ball, and therefore couldn’t create chances. As the half wore on the side looked more and more on the ropes, and started looking to just hold on rather than regain any footing. Alex Crognale came on for Federico Higuain with just about fifteen minutes to play, and shortly thereafter Crew SC conceded the equalizing goal. It would seem that Berhalter’s decision to try to bunker down and see it out backfired. The addition of a center-back didn’t help steady the side at all, and for most of the remainder of the match Montreal seemed more likely to score a winner. But then Meram did what Meram does, and it’s all inconsequential.
It’s understandable that in the third match in eight days, on the road, in a stadium where you’ve struggled that Berhalter would elect to try to protect what his side had, even if it was only a point. It may not be the most exciting decision, or one fans really like, but it’s practical and pragmatic. Had the late game heroics of Meram failed to materialize Berhalter may have found himself fielding some pointed questions, but the fact of the matter is that the heroics did arrive, and Berhalter’s side got the three points they desperately needed.
Kekuta Manneh made his first Crew SC start against Montreal, going 62 minutes before being subbed off. Manneh had been the subject of much speculation across the Crewniverse, due to only seeing nine minutes of action since being traded from Vancouver. His performance was decent but unspectacular. He completed 70 percent of his passes, taking part in a few build-up sequences but not really threatening the goal. His only real moment of danger was when headed the ball directly at Evan Bush on a rebound after Higuian’s shot stung his hands. He should have done better, but he was offside, so it didn’t matter anyway. He finished with a 6.85 on WhoScored, and while he didn’t really have an impact on the score-line, he didn’t seem to be too far out of synch with his teammates, which is an encouraging sign. With Ethan Finlay possibly out for another match with injury there may be more minutes for Manneh, but he’ll have to show more to make a bid for a regular starting spot.
Individual Mistakes (Almost) Cost Team
In the mid-week match Gregg Berhalter pointed to “individual errors” as opposed to systemic issues as the causes of the goals they conceded. Wil Trapp echoed those statements. Saturday that trend continued, as both goals the Black & Gold conceded can be chalked up to avoidable, individual errors as opposed to the system being exploited. Montreal’s first goal came after a bad sequence from center-back Jonathan Mensah. He turned the ball over, then lost a duel, letting Piatti muscle him off the ball. The ball found its way in to the box, where Piatti then buried it. Too much happens on any given play to lay all the blame on one set of shoulders, but it’s fair to say that both the turnover and lost duel were avoidable. The equalizing goal was also avoidable. It came off a set piece, as Adam Jahn flicked the ball backwards instead of clearing, allowing Anthony Jackson-Hamel to get in at the back post unmarked. Jahn probably could have done better, but letting a guy loose at the back post on a free kick is inexcusable. While Berhalter will likely be encouraged by the fact that the goals his side are conceding are more or less one-offs, but he will be concerned that these avoidable issues keep popping up.
Welcome Back Artur (We Missed You)
Brazilian central midfielder Artur returned to the team after missing three matches with a fractured wrist. He played all 90 minutes, injured hand wrapped in a club-like cast. Through the early part of the season the young Brazilian had proven himself to be a versatile two-way player, and the team was worse off for his absence. It wasn’t a dazzling return to the field for Artur, but a quietly solid one. Early on he seemed to have more of his footing defensively than offensively, but he grew in to the match as it went on. He had six tackles on the night, and didn’t seem over-awed by marking Piatti when called upon to do so. He completed 72.5% of his passes, and ended up with a 6.72 WhoScored rating. It was an encouraging return, particularly with him going a full 90 minutes. When he’s on his game he is a real dynamic, game-changing player, and Saturday’s performance will give Crew fans hope that he is getting back towards that kind of level.
Happy Mother’s Day, Crewniverse. Stay Massive.