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Columbus Crew SC enters Gold Cup Break with a win

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The Black & Gold went to Minnesota and nicked a 1-0 victory.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Minnesota United FC Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not always going to be pretty winning in Major League Soccer. Sometimes you just have to grind out wins.

That’s what Columbus Crew SC have failed to do too often in 2017, but Tuesday night was the exception in a 1-0 win over Minnesota United on the road.

Despite it being the Fourth of July, there were very little fireworks in this contest. In an uneventful first half, Crew SC managed four shots (one on goal) to Minnesota’s one (none on goal).

The most notable moments of the half were when each side was forced to make an early substitution. Columbus’ Nicolai Naess came off in the 34th minute for Josh Williams due to an ankle injury and and United midfielder Collen Warner replaced Abu Danladi just before halftime.

In the 58th minute, the Black & Gold took the lead. Crew SC winger Kekuta Manneh spun of off Sam Cronin in the middle of the field, dribbled towards the Minnesota penalty box uncontested and fired a shot to the far-side corner that beat MNUFC goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth for the 1-0 advantage.

The goal came against the run of play as United came out of the locker room the more aggressive of the two sides, but were unable to turn possession in the attacking third into any solid chances.

Just minutes after scoring his second goal in three games, Manneh was substituted for normal starter Justin Meram. Despite playing only 27 minutes, Meram made his presence felt, creating chances and holding possession for the Black & Gold to help seal the victory.

Road wins

Following this game, Crew SC now have three road wins on the season. At the time of publication, this tied the Black & Gold for third-best in the league and already eclipses last year’s mark.

Columbus have certainly had some clunkers on the road, but Crew SC have managed to take nine points away from MAPFRE Stadium. If the home form continues — six wins in 10 matches — then the Black & Gold should be in contention for a playoff spot come the year’s end.

Grinding it out

Too many times this year, Crew SC have controlled a game only to fail to get a result. It’s the biggest issue for a talented team that sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference through 20 games played.

On Tuesday night, playing a more well-rested side, Columbus likely didn’t deserve to walk away with all three points. It was certainly not the best performance of the year, but the Black & Gold come back to Ohio with three points in a shutout victory.

When it boils down to it, all that matters are results and Crew SC got one on the Fourth of July. Now can that continue?

The right look

Although it wasn’t the best performance, it’s arguable Gregg Berhalter put his most productive formation on the field on Tuesday.

Playing in a 3-5-1, Crew SC were able to get three center backs on the field, helping to clog up the middle and fend off Minnesota’s attacking threats. A three-man Columbus backline has now kept a clean sheet for 260 of 270 minutes.

In the middle of the field, the Black & Gold lost the possession battle, but won crucial matchups including through second-choice Mohammed Abu, who was solid in relief of Artur.

Without a couple of the big guns in — Meram and Federico Higuain -- from the start, Columbus found other ways to attack and managed to grab a goal when necessary.

Crew SC is now 2-1-0 when playing with three in the back, a formation the team worked on throughout the preseason, but has only used on occasion.

What’s next

It’s a long break for Crew SC.

The Black & Gold next play July 17 in a friendly against Eintracht Frankfurt at MAPFRE Stadium. The team will face its next MLS match following the Gold Cup break when it welcomes the Philadelphia Union to Columbus on July 22.

Both of those matches kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET.