For weeks now, Columbus Crew SC players and coaches have discussed opportunities that went missing in matches that ended in disappointment.
On Saturday night, at home against the Montreal Impact, the Black & Gold seized the chances and walked out with a 4-1 victory that send 16,592 fans home happy.
As was the goal a week ago, Columbus looked to get Ethan Finlay involved early. Twice in the opening 20 minutes, he beat his man, Kyle Fisher, once resulting in a foul, a yellow card and a Crew SC free kick from the top of the penalty box.
Federico Higuain stepped up to take the 17th minute set peice. A slight deflection caught Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush flat-footed and gave the Black & Gold an early 1-0 lead.
That advantage would not hold for very long. Just two minutes after putting his side up, Higuain’s turnover in his own defensive half led to a transition equalizer.
After collecting the ball, Pipa attempted to play a no-look pass up field that was intercepted by Hernan Bernardello. The midfielder found the always dangerous Ignacio Piatti, who dribbled into the penalty area, put Crew SC center back Jonathan Mensah on his backside and found Anthony Jackson-Hamel for the relatively easy finish.
After a rather slow start to the second half, Columbus was injected with some instant offense when head coach Gregg Berhalter brought winger Kekuta Manneh off the bench.
Following a pretty pass from near midfield from Higuain in the 70th minute, Manneh took a touch off his chest, lost the ball and then got it back on a deflection. The midfielder calmly tucked the ball into the net for his first Crew SC goal and a 2-1 lead.
Two minutes later, it was Manneh again, this time providing the assist. He drew his defender out wide and sent an accurate cross into the penalty area that was finished on the volley by Ola Kamara.
To add a cherry on top of the win, Higuain grabbed his second goal of the game in the 88th minute. A long ball on a restart from from Zack Steffen was flicked on by Adam Jahn right into the path of Pipa. As he does, Higuain slotted it home for the three-goal final scoreline.
Gregg Berhalter has often been criticized for his substitutions, but on Saturday night, he got it all right. Columbus made only two changes, but both Kektua Manneh and Adam Jahn provided a spark.
Manneh ended the night with his first goal and assist since joining the club in late March and Jahn, who had a career season a year ago, got his first assist on the final goal.
Substitutions are tricky things, but when they work like this, you can see the impact they can have on a match.
Much needed three points
After losing five of the last six games in all competition, Crew SC needed to take advantage of being at home and playing a team on short rest. Not getting points in this contest would have seen the team fall below the playoff line for the first time all season.
It was also a nice boost to the team, who felt that multiple losses over that stretch should have resulted in at least a draw.
This win wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, but Columbus got the three points it needed and slowly the mood begins to change.
The Black & Gold are home again next weekend, Saturday July 1, against Atlanta United.
After losing to the Five Stripes on the road a week ago, revenge will certainly be on Crew SC’s mind. In the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium, another three points should be the goal.