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Columbus Crew SC ruin the party; defeat Toronto FC 2-0

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It was a season-opening victory for the Black & Gold.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Berhalter discusses Columbus Crew SC’s 2-0 win over Toronto FC

Posted by Massive Report on Saturday, March 3, 2018

After an offseason of questions, both on and off the field, Columbus Crew SC had all the answers on Saturday afternoon, walking into Toronto FC’s house and walking out with a 2-0 victory, spoiling the MLS Cup championship celebrations.

It was a back-and-forth first half with each side having its period of dominance.

Just 12 minutes in, Cristian Martinez came close to opening the scoring for the visitors. The young winger latched on to a through pass from playmaker Federico Higuain, raced into the penalty box, but put his effort just wide.

Ten minutes later and TFC created a good change when Justin Morrow found himself free in behind the Columbus backline. The Toronto wing back looked for a low pass to Sebastian Giovinco, but center back Lalas Abubakar just got a toe to the ball to deny.

The effect of the first match of the year was evident as the half rolled on, as both teams appeared to tire a bit in the close stages.

But just before halftime, Columbus struck first blood.

Artur picked the ball up in midfield and, ignoring the easier options, played a long, floated ball across the pitch to left back Milton Valenzuela. The new Young Designated Player did well to collect and keep the ball from leaving the field of play, flicking it back into the mix where Higuain finished on the half volley.

The Black & Gold took the 1-0 lead into the break, but weren’t content to sit on the advantage away from home.

Less than a minute into the second half Pedro Santos, moving central from his left wing position, found Gyasi Zardes running in on goal. The striker put a one-time strike past goalkeeper Alex Bono to double Crew SC’s lead on his debut with the club.

After the Zardes goal, it was time for the away side to defend for its life, as Toronto threw wave after wave of pressure at Columbus.

To the Black & Gold’s credit, there was no panic as the team held on to the clean sheet.

The best chance came in the 66th minute when Giovinco found enough space near the top of the penalty box to curl a shot that beat Zack Steffen but hit the post. The long rebound was collected by Auro out wide and put back into the danger area, but Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah slid to deny Jozy Altidore his goal.

TFC had another effort clang off the uprights 12 minutes later. This time it was midfielder Ager Aketxe with a strike from distance that lofted over Steffen but came back off the crossbar.

A minute later, Altidore came close to halfing the deficit with a strike that just slid wide of the far post.

Despite continued pressure through the four minutes of stoppage time, the Black & Gold maintained the two-goal advantage and earned its first opening-day win since 2014.

Stat-filled debuts

With a number of changes to the Crew SC roster this offseason, new players are going to have to step up for this team to be successful in 2018. That happened on Saturday afternoon.

Milton Valenzuela registered his first assist in his first match for the Black & Gold and Gyasi Zardes recorded a debut finish to ensure the opening victory. Both players will be important for Columbus this season, so head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff will be pleased with their performances.

Justin who?

One of the big questions heading into this season is how was how Crew SC will replace the production of Justin Meram, a player that no replacement was brought in for. Maybe Berhalter knew what he had, as Pedro Santos put on a spectacular performance in this match.

Playing on the left side for the first time, Santos looked like Meram at times, moving all around the field, interchanging positions with Federico Higuain. He setup the goal and had a couple of good looks himself.

What’s next

The Black & Gold’s home opener is next Saturday, as they welcome the Montreal Impact to MAPFRE Stadium. That match is scheduled to kickoff at 1 p.m. ET