Columbus Crew SC started the Charleston swing of the preseason with a win against Atlanta United on Saturday evening. Pedro Santos and Cristian Martinez scored for the Black and Gold in the 3-1 win while Josef Martinez scored an own goal and Miguel Almirón added a consolation goal for Atlanta.
The first game of the Carolina Challenge Cup started with a regular season pace. Head coach Gregg Berhalter rolled out a strong lineup with nine likely opening day starters. Only Lalas Abubakar stepped in for the recovering Josh Willams and Gaston Sauro. Martinez started on the wing as the team looks for Justin Meram’s replacement.
Atlanta started with consistent pressure on the ball and forced Columbus into some errant passes as they attempted to play through the press. Crew SC would struggle to get past half way in the opening minutes, but would unlock the defense in the 13th minute with Artur passing from deep. Martinez would lose the ball, but his defensive poke fell to Federico Higuain. Pipa was calm on the ball and sent Santos in on goal. The Portuguese winger fired a left footed shot for his first score in Black & Gold.
Crew SC would again find success with Artur playing through the Atlanta lines. After taking the ball from a Zack Steffen throw, the Brazilian midfielder slipped a long pass to Martinez. Checking goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Martinez ran onto the pass and chipped the goalkeeper from almost 40 yards out, giving Columbus the 2-0 lead in the 33rd minute. It was outstanding vision and skill to execute the pass and the chip.
With Columbus easing to a solid 2-0 lead, the game would settle on both sides of halftime. Neither side would really create too much danger as Atlanta would keep the majority of the possession, but would be unable to really test the Crew SC backline or Steffen.
It would take until the 71st minute for Columbus to put the game away and it came off a corner that initially provided little danger. Santos bent in a kick into the six-yard box. Josef Martinez had an uncontested defensive header and redirected it into his own net for the 3-0 Crew SC lead.
United would get a late consolation goal. Josef Martinez would redeem himself a bit as he was able to set up Almirón in the box. Almiron would hold off Abubakar and finish from close range to make it 3-1 in the 90th minute.
Berhalter is starting to get into a regular season rotation. Crew SC made a single sub as Artur was lifted in the 60th minute for Crew SC Academy player Sean Zawadski. The rest of the starting lineup went the full 90 minutes. With a game on Wednesday, Berhalter may be considering a completely changed lineup as his starters get into rhythm.
The D is for defense
Berhalter said that young designated player Milton Valenzuela is very comfortable on the defensive end, but he’d grow into his offensive role. He was as advertised on Saturday evening. He was calm in one on one situations, the highlight being when he was tasked to stop an Atlanta counter off a corner kick and he calmly tackled his opponent and transitioned back to offense. He’s not as sharp going forward as previous left backs, but he may be the best on the defensive side of the ball.
The Black and Gold face off against the Charleston Battery on Wednesday night at 5:00 pm. They finish up the Carolina Challenge Cup against Minnesota United on Saturday at 5:00 pm.