Columbus Crew SC kept the team’s perfect start to the 2018 season, defeating the Montreal Impact 3-2 on a cold, sunny, Saturday afternoon at MAPFRE Stadium. Two goals from Gyasi Zardes and another from Federico Higuain led the way as Crew SC avoided a late second half collapse.
The scoring opened early as former Crew SC defender Jukka Raitala brought down Lalas Abubakar to give Columbus an early penalty. Federico Higuain converted from the spot in the 12th minute to give the home side a 1-0 lead. It was the 50th career goal for Pipa.
The hot start continued when Zardes made it 2-0 in the 15th minute. The new forward cleaned up the loose ball that resulted from a Pedro Santos free kick headed off the crossbar by Artur.
The Impact finally settled into the game and slowed the Black & Gold attack, but struggled to create quality chances, finishing the half with only three shots, none on goal.
Crew SC showed signs of life early in the second half when Milton Valenzuela worked his way into the penalty box and fired a close-range shot that forced an Evan Bush save.
Montreal then took control of the game with their first chance coming off another defensive laps. Matteo Mancosu got behind Harrison Afful and forced Zack Steffen to come up with a block to keep the Impact scoreless in the 56th minute.
The Impact finally broke through three minutes later. Ignacio Piatti scored from a tight angle, placing the shot where Steffen could not reach.
Crew SC couldn’t break the fierce fightback from Montreal. The visitors peppered the Crew SC goal with five shots between the 60th and 80th minute with Raheem Edwards nearly tying it in the 71st minute.
In the 80th minute, Steffen would be pressed into action again off an Impact free kick. Saphir Taider sent in a ball that was poorly cleared. Daniel Lovitz settled the ball and fire in a cross that Raitala and Edwards attempted and poke past Steffen, but the ball popped up to Victor Cabrera who prodded a header just inside the post, forcing a miraculous Steffen save from the close range shot.
Just minutes later, the Impact found their tying goal. Lovitz again made something happen from the left wing, lobbing a cross into the box that Edwards caught on the volley cleanly and leveled the score with five minutes to go. It was deserved after the pressure the visitors put the Black & Gold under.
Columbus looked listless the entire second half, but found a couple last-gasp chances in stoppage time. Afful’s shot in the 92nd minute was easily saved, but rookie Luis Argudo setup the chance to steal all three points.
In the last minute of the three added by the referee, Wil Trapp swept a long ball to the left for Argudo. The rookie found Valenzuela deeper in the attacking zone and moved into space. He took the return pass and cut into the penalty area. Edwards tripped over his feet and rolled over the back of the rookie. Zardes took the penalty and finished with authority. The whistle blew on the Impact kickoff.
After going down 2-0, the Impact settled into the game, but failed to test the Crew SC defense through the first half. They poured on the pressure in the second half.
After only recording three shots, all off target, Montreal added 13 more with five on target in the second half. Columbus struggled to break the pressure and paid for it.
The uncertainty surrounding Crew SC’s possible move to Austin was certain to cause attendance issues. It was hard to calculate just how much until today.
Only 11,098 showed up at MAPFRE, the second-lowest attended home opener in team history, after 2011’s 10,306. The team’s most ardent supporters have fought hard to keep interest in Crew SC as part of the Save The Crew movement to “Fill the ‘FRE,” but without a reassurance that the team will remain in Columbus.
Columbus Crew SC will take their 2-0 record on the road to Philadelphia to face the Union on Saturday, March 17th. The game will kick off at 2:00 p.m. ET.