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Six Thought Box: Starting the right way

Columbus needed a win against a lesser team. They got it

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC dominated and made it count with the 2-0 win as they kicked off the first of three at home.

The 4-2-3-1 unleashed: Columbus has stuck with the 3-2-4-1 for as long as Federico Higuain has been out, but with the playmaker back and the visiting Galaxy reeling, Gregg Berhalter decided it was time to play the game his way. Justin Meram, Pedro Santos, and Higuain combined very well in the opening moments of the game. Crew SC had six shots leading up to Higuain’s missed penalty marking the first quarter of the game. The Galaxy defense was reeling and unable to contain three technical midfielders. The defense held well against an admittedly poor Galaxy team. The visitors got off five shots, all off target. At least for one night, it was the platonic ideal of Berhalter’s ideas.

(Near) Instant Impact: Santos’ debut was poor in a game that was getting scrappy and Crew SC ceded possession. With Crew SC on the front foot in the 4-2-3-1, Santos shined. There was the red card drawn, penalty earned, and the assist as an emphatic statement, but he was able to show so much more. He’s deceptively fast on the dribble, magic in tight spaces, and showed excellent off the ball runs to get open. He also was a pest on defense with three interceptions, four recoveries, and a tackle. That’s defensive production that Columbus can use down the stretch. His playing time has been limited, but he looks like he has the talent to change games consistently. The reported $2+ million fee appears well spent.

Finding their feet: Santos wasn’t the only signing to start finding his feet. Two offseason signings are starting to show what they are capable of. Jonathan Mensah has quietly started to put together a stretch of solid games. The Designated Player had 10 clearances, seven recoveries, and two interceptions. Mohammed Abu built off a solid game in Orlando to highlight his strengths. He’s clean on the ball and he has vision as his two key passes and assist highlight. He may not be Artur, but he’s a valuable cog against weaker teams or with more defensive cover.

Stiffened Spine: Columbus still has a reputation (and a habit) of letting results slip with NYCFC, Toronto, and Colorado all taking wins away after Columbus lead. After two penalty misses and 18 shots total, the Black & Gold should have had a more comfortable cushion than a 1-0 lead. Especially after the second missed penalty by Ola Kamara, the expectation was that the wastefulness would come back to haunt them. This team didn’t wobble. The Galaxy notably only had five shots and never looked like they were going to threaten. And yes, flukes happen, but the backline, lead by Jonathan buckled down again and Columbus looked in control (but sure, insurance goals are nice too).

Dead Legs: Crew SC is coming to the end of a tiring stretch with long distance travel to and from Orlando, a mid week game, and the suddenly mortal, but still dangerous FC Dallas coming to town on Saturday. Berhalter prioritiezed the game that Crew SC were playing on Wednesday, but the down side is that all three of Crew SC crafty offensive geniuses will be carrying some fatigue. The early injury to Waylon Francis changed some substitution patterns and it forced Berhalter to run Higuain for 63 minutes, Santos for 69’, and an obviously gassed Meram for the full 90’. Kamara also played another 90’. It’s the nature of needing points at home and having a narrow margin in the standings, but it will make the Dallas game a bit harder.

Who are these guys? It’s true that Crew SC dominated LA, but with the lineup the Galaxy has right now, that should be a given. Without Giovani dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Jelle Van Damme, plus Romain Alessandrini ailing, this was not a powerhouse team. It’s good that the Black & Gold took care of business, but how they move on to the next game will count. Crew SC dispatched the Seattle Sounders easily in May and then lost to the Rapids. Against such a weakened team, playing a man down, I’d expect Columbus to come out at full speed and dominate the Galaxy. That form has to carry over though for the stretch run to the playoffs against some tougher teams.

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