Columbus Crew SC needed to respond after three straight losses punctuated by a lopsided defeat to Toronto FC. A return to MAPFRE and a weakened Seattle Sounders team were the antidote to a month that saw the Black & Gold battered.
Call it a Must Win
May was always going to be a tough month. Crew SC were going to go on the road for three straight after a a disappointing home stand. And while they won in Montreal, the drubbing in Toronto called for a response. Columbus answered. The team did exactly what was needed facing a weakened opponent at home. They dominated the game with possession and cutting passes. Crew SC scored early and often. The game was never in doubt.
While it wasn’t a “must win” in the standings, the match was for the team’s psyche. A lopsided loss sews seeds of doubt. Missing a golden chance at home would have been rich organic fertilizer for that doubt to grow. The season certainly isn’t saved, and this is only one game (as was the loss), but this was the response that everyone needed to see.
Shuffling the (lineup) cards
Gregg Berhalter made five changes to the team that lost in Toronto. In came Ethan Finlay, Artur, Josh Williams, Jukka Raitala, and Hector Jimenez. All five responded with solid performances that lifted a Crew SC team that needed to regain a little self belief. For all the turnover, it was a complete performance from the entire team. All the pieces fit together as Columbus made it look easy in the defeat of a the reigning MLS Cup champs. There were no signs of struggle that often comes after so much lineup turnover. The passes were sharp and the shots were well taken. A team effort downed the Sounders.
While the new starters made their mark, there was one notable absence from the gamely 18. Nicolai Naess was omitted for a combination of performance and tactical reasons. It’s still a good bet he plays on Saturday.
Locking it down
Seattle was missing Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Chad Marshall. Harry Shipp was left on the bench and outside back Joevin Jones was used as a winger. Yes, Seattle was shorthanded, but Columbus failed to contain New York City FC and TFC when those teams were missing key pieces earlier this year. The Crew SC defense didn’t fall into the same trap and held the Sounders to six (mostly) low percentage shots. Zack Steffen was forced to make a couple saves, but the backline kept most of the pressure off the young keeper. That probably came as a relief after Friday’s peppering. The weakened Sounders never looked like a threat to score. It was a dominant performance.
Crew SC’s all-action midfielder has been solid since returning from his broken wrist, but he really elevated his game against the Sounders. Suffering though a bout of sickness that delayed his return from the halftime break, Artur consistently made plays on both sides of the ball.
He was on target with his passes, completing 66 of his 71 attempts. His impact goes beyond the score sheet and the advanced defensive stats. He did make two tackles and recorded eight recoveries, but that doesn’t track his ability to slow down an attack with his range on defense and ability to clog lanes or herd an attacker wide, killing off promising transition attacks.
The Sounders desperately wanted to hit Crew SC on the counter, but time after time they were stymied by the young Brazilian.
Something to Prove
Justin Meram was controversially substituted on Friday evening and was visibly unhappy about it. He said he put it behind him, even half-joked he can’t remember the 39.5 minutes he was on the field after the game. However, it was clear that he felt he had something to prove after his ignominious exit last match, even guaranteeing a win.
Meram responded with one of his best games of the season. He flitted between the spaces centrally and wide left. His deft passing touch set up teammates, his dribbling cut through the heart of the Sounder backline, and he also tracked back relentlessly on defense.
Seattle had no answers for one of the most dangerous attackers in MLS. He shredded the Sounders to the tune of four shots, two on goal, one goal, an assist and another key pass in his 74 minutes on the field. He was far happier coming off on Wednesday night.
The other guys
Meram wasn’t the only Crew SC player to have a great day on the offensive end. Ola Kamara was eager to test the Sounder defense to the tune of five shots and two offsides. The Norwegian may have been snubbed for national team duty this week, but he remains a key part of the Columbus offense as evidenced by his well taken goal. Likewise, Federico Higuain remains in impressive form in 2017. He quietly went about his job, picking apart the defense with methodically surgical precision and scoring the game-winning goal. The offense has struggled, but when unleashed, the Black & Gold’s attacking troika can trouble any defense in the league.
In the spirit of Gregg Berhalter, the Six-Though Box will take this one a game at a time. Just like every night won’t be a 3-0 win; every night is a 0-5 loss.