Returning home after a disappointing road draw a week ago that saw Columbus Crew SC allow a late equalizer, the Black & Gold players wanted to get the bad taste out of their mouths.
Despite conceding late again, Crew SC held on to defeat the New York Red Bulls 3-2 on Saturday night, taking the team a step close to the MLS Cup playoffs.
After New York’s pressure pinned Columbus in its own defensive third for the first few minutes of the match, Crew SC took advantage of a set piece opportunity. Federico Higuan’s free kick to the center of the penalty area found the head of Jonathan Mensah, whose effort beat Luis Robles for the early advantage.
The lead did not last long though as the Black & Gold fell asleep defensively and the Red Bulls capitalized.
A combination of left back Hector Jimenez and central midfielder Mohammed Abu gave the ball away by the corner flag. Winger Sean Davis picked up the ball and found an open Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 18-yard box. It was a quick turn and shot by the forward to beat Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen for the tying goal.
Four minutes after the equalizer, winger Justin Meram looked to give his side the lead. Driving into the Red Bulls’ half, the midfielder beat a defender and fired a shot from a long way out that went just over the New York crossbar.
In the 25th minute, Robles came up big for NYRB, denying first Ola Kamara then Pedro Santos low efforts in quick succession.
Kamara missed a sitter five minutes from the halftime break. After Santos deflected the ball to the forward while being fouled, Kamara was one on one with Robles with Meram running alongside. The striker elected for a chip attempt that sailed over the crossbar.
Nine minutes into the second half, it was Meram who gave the Black & Gold the lead.
Higuain’s through ball found the winger out wide. He dribbled into the penalty box, taking on Fidel Escobar before cutting inside to his stronger right foot and curling a shot into the side netting for the 2-1 advantage.
Columbus grabbed another goal in the 66th minute. This time it was a Higuain corner that was redirected home by Josh Williams for a 3-1 lead.
That goal became important in the 71st minute when second half substitute for the Red Bulls Gonzalo Veron cut back at the end line inside the 18-yard box. A sliding Jonathan missed the ball and caught the striker.
Although a penalty kick was not initially awarded, referee Fotis Bazakos went to video review and called the spot kick.
Veron stepped up and buried the effort from 12 yards out to cut the deficit to one.
After the goal though, a tired New York side, playing its third game in seven days, was not able to mount much of a challenge and Crew SC held on for a big three points.
Hat trick assists
Federico Higuain has done a lot in a Black & Gold uniform, but on Saturday night he recorded three assists, a feat he had never accomplished in his six years with the club.
Two of Higuain’s assists came from set pieces, one a free kick and one a corner, and the other on a through ball after a pretty turn in open play.
He becomes the first Crew SC player to record a hat trick of assists since Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Columbus fans may remember that game, as it helped capture the team’s only MLS Cup.
Under Gregg Berhalter, Crew SC has typically gotten hot at the end of the season, but right now this group is in rare air.
Saturday night’s win stretched the unbeaten run to seven games, something a Black & Gold team and not accomplished since the spring of 2011.
While streaks are not indicative of how a team will do in the postseason, a hot team is a dangerous team and one most MLS sides won’t want to face.
Crew SC will play against at MAPFRE Stadium next Saturday when D.C. United comes to town. The Black & Red play midweek against this same Red Bulls side.
That match will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET.