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Columbus Crew SC’s second goal was a back-breaking, question-answering finish

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Both Black & Gold finishes were pretty, but that second one sent a message.

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

You never want to give up a goal, but in soccer, the worst two periods to concede are the five minutes before and after the halftime whistle.

The reason for this may be obvious, but it’s deflating to allow the opponent to score right before the break and sometimes even more so right after you’ve gone the locker room and made halftime adjustments.

On Saturday, Columbus Crew SC scored in the 44th and 46th minute, leading to a 2-0 victory over Toronto FC on the road.

“It was nice to go into halftime with that lead,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think the guys got confidence from that and you saw at the start of the second half as well, they came out confident.”

While the first goal was certainly important for the Black & Gold to create that confidence, the second goal was the backbreaker. Or, as Pedro Santos put it, “I think the second goal almost killed the game.”

What made it more demoralizing for Toronto was how it happened.

Fifty-two seconds into the half, the defending MLS Cup champions were down two at home, a place the Reds only lost once all of last season.

“They didn’t touch the ball,” captain and midfielder Wil Trapp said of the play. “We got it off the kickoff, we passed it around, came back, played Pedro, he dribbles, plays a fantastic ball and we score and that’s deflating to a team that is coming out in the second knowing that they have to push to try to score a goal. Now they’re down 2-0 instead of one.”

The goal not only sealed the deal for Columbus on opening day, but also showcased how Crew SC can, and will, play this season.

After losing both Justin Meram and Ola Kamara in the offseason, the team needed to prove it could move on from the 31 goals the duo provided a year ago. Forward Gyasi Zardes was brought to Columbus to fill in up top, but there were questions about whether he had another double-digit-goal season in him.

And who would replace Meram? Other than Mike Grella, acquired before the Iraqi was traded, there were no major offseason additions on the wings.

The answer, at least in this contest, is Pedro Santos, who, after arriving in early August last year, played primarily on the right but was asked to move to the left to begin 2018. And he put in quite the performance.

“The passing ability is unbelievable,” Trapp said of Santos’ performance. “That’s a pass (for the goal) that, Gregg just mentioned it, we’ve been working on it for four years.”

Working on it, but not quite perfecting it. Why? Because Meram is a right-footed player who lines up on the left. That allows him to cut inside and shoot with his dominant foot — and Justin did that very well — but essentially negates those curled passes like the one that led to the goal. Santos, a primarily left-footed player, can make those

“We saw some videos and we know when I have the ball sometimes he (Zardes) was one on one against the center back,” Santos explained. “I know where he goes. When I look up, I saw the space and I put the ball. It’s a great ball and he finishes it and scores a goal.”

“The quality of that pass, you could see Zavaleta froze and Mavinga trying to make up ground, he just couldn’t,” Trapp finished.

And while Santos deserves a ton of the credit — and he should also thank the TFC defense for giving him acres of space to run in to — Zardes deserves his fair share as well.

After a 16-goal season in 2014, Zardes has 14 goals over the last three years combine with the LA Galaxy. There’e a myriad of reasons for that, but Crew SC fans couldn’t help but worry about his lack of goals over that span, especially if he is expected to be the primary striker.

It’s only one game, but Zardes made the perfect run and demonstrated the one-touch- finishing ability he needs to be dangerous in this team on that insurance goal.

“Every time he (Santos) gets the ball, I’m looking to get behind the line just because I know he can thread the needle,” Zardes said. “He can get the ball into tight spaces and sure enough, you can watch that goal and it was all him.”

Well, not all.

As always with the Black & Gold, the team is not going to read too much into one game, win or lose. But to walk into BMO Field and defeat the MLS Cup champions to start the season, while also answering the two biggest questions facing the team, is an impressive start to 2018.

“It’s great,” Santos said of the win. “We do a great job and great work. Everybody knows what to do in the field and I’m very happy for the first and start the season with a victory is very good for everybody. It gives us more confidence for the next games.”