Columbus Crew SC returned to the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium after a rough road stretch desperately needing a result. Thanks to a second half salvo of offense, the Black & Gold got it against the Montreal Impact Here are six thoughts.
Man(neh) of the Moment
For weeks, maybe months, Crew SC writers, fans, and commentators alike have been pointing to the lack of game-changing offensive firepower on the bench as a major hurdle to success this season. Saturday, Kekuta Manneh did his best to answer that call, scoring with essentially his first touch and providing an assist for Ola Kamara just a couple of minutes later.
Manneh took longer than most people expected to see the field since joining the team and his appearances have been limited thus far. He’s showed flashes of pace, but didn’t seem to be clicking within the Crew SC offense. Saturday, however, showed just what he was capable of, and it was exactly what the Black & Gold needed.
He hit the ground running, literally, getting in to the channel to get on to an amazing pass from Federico Higuain. He quickly provided his first assist as well, burning the Montreal right-back and crossing in for Kamara, who provided the finish with a sweet volleyed strike.
Manneh provided the spark Crew SC needed, which changed the course of the match. This kind of performance is what Crew SC fans have been waiting for since his arrival from Vancouver, and the type of thing the Black & Gold desperately need when looking to change a match.
Oh Pipa, my Pipa
Higuain had a phenomenal game on Saturday. Crew SC’s No. 10 was once again the offensive lynchpin of the team, providing key passes, helping dictate the tempo and scoring two goals, including a fantastic free kick from just outside of the penalty box. He was accurate on four out of his six crosses and three out of four long balls.
The playmaker finished the match with a whopping 9.17 rating on WhoScored, the highest on the team. This type of performance is what we have come to expect from the Crew SC midfield Maestro and it’s the type of game the team will need if it is to be successful in the second half of the season. As good as Justin Meram has been this season, this offense simply does not work without the Argentine playmaker pulling the strings.
A Positive Reaction
Don’t let the score line fool you, for much of this match it looked like this would be an all too familiar story for Columbus fans.
After opening the scoring, Crew SC allowed a quick equalizer and Montreal seemed the more likely to to score until Manneh entertain the fray.
The last 30 minutes of this match seemed to be direct answers to several long-standing criticisms of this Black & Gold team this season. Impact sub off the bench? Check. Not taking foot off the gas after going up? Check. Seeing out the victory? Check. The last half an hour of Saturday’s match was exactly the sort of reaction Gregg Berhalter, and Crew fans, wanted to see after the recent string of poor performances.
Not All Sunshine
It wasn’t a perfect night for Crew SC, however.
Jonathan Mensah, the Black & Gold’s latest Designated Player signing, continued to struggle. He was left falling over on the Impact’s goal, though he only gets a share of the blame for that disaster. He was let off the hook for a horrendous pass that could have led to a second goal for the Impact.
Mensah has been responsible for more than his fair share of howlers this season, and it’s not showing signs of stopping. For a new to MLS player to struggle to adjust to the pace or style of the league is one thing, though you would think a World Cup experienced, DP signing would be able to handle that as well, but Mensah’s mistakes have largely been individual errors totally separated from tactical considerations. He just doesn’t seem to have the decision-making skills you’d expect of a DP signing.
With so much depth at center back, how much slack can Berhalter afford to give him?
This Crew SC team are so much more effective, more dangerous when moving the ball quickly. When the Black & Gold slow things down, they begin to stagnate and get themselves in trouble. Obviously there are going to be situations where tapping the breaks and downshifting the tempo are required, but I continue to be surprised how slow the default setting of this team seems to be.
With quality passers like Higuain, Artur, and to a lesser extent Wil Trapp, and speedy wingers like Finlay, Meram, and Manneh, slowing the match down seems to be a self-defeating strategy.
In addition to moving the ball quickly I believe that changing it up and playing a more direct style at times will greatly benefit this team. Keeping possession is part of Berhalter’s coaching DNA, but at times, I think employing a more direct style would greatly benefit Columbus, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that a couple of the goals in the second half came from that.
The Big Question
Can this team replicate this performance consistently? That’s really the only question that matters at this point of the season.
We’ve seen Crew SC score some wonderful goals and pick up good results so far in 2017, but we’ve also seen the club falter in matches it should win. As encouraging as Saturday’s result is, it’s going to take a string of these outcomes for me to have any real confidence in this team as a playoff contender.
With several winnable matches coming up in July, Columbus could, or should, wrack up a few results. How the team performs in July will likely determine just how this season goes for the Black & Gold.