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Lalas Abubakar anchors Columbus Crew SC’s defense to gritty win over defending champs

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The second-year defender had a standout performance during the season opener in Toronto.

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

Columbus Crew SC exacted revenge on the field where its 2017 season ended. The Black & Gold earned a hard fought victory against Toronto FC on Saturday with an impressive 2-0 win at BMO Field.

The result is the first victory on opening day for Crew SC since a 3-0 victory in against D.C. United at RFK Stadium in 2014.

The offense did its part, scoring on either side of halftime, but the Black & Gold earned the hard fought win on the strength of its defense, and second year center back Lalas Abubakar was at the heart of the defensive effort.

The 23-year-old defender had a stellar game, helping his side neutralize Toronto’s goal-scoring threats of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

“We need to know where they were at all times,” Abubakar said of Toronto’s strikers. “We needed to make sure as soon as they touched the ball that we were close up to them.

WIth The Reds ending Crew SC’s playoff run last year, and the off-the-field drama that is unfolding, Columbus came into the game with a chip on its shoulder. Road victories come at a premium in Major League Soccer, so getting a win at BMO Field and exorcising demons from last year was critical for the Black & Gold.

“We wanted to try to get some revenge,” Abubakar said frankly. “Last year we came here and lost in this locker room and everyone was disappointed. When I came into this locker room I thought, ‘I’m not going back to Columbus without a win.’ We fought together and we came out with the victory.”

Abubakar is excited for his second year as a professional. He enjoyed a great rookie campaign, but is excited for what’s to come in 2018.

The center back attributed his growth as a defender from year one to year two to watching veteran and teammate Josh Williams and having a good line of communication with fellow defender and countrymen Jonathan Mensah.

“I played with him a couple of times in preseason and during trainings. It’s been good,” Jonathan said of his fellow Ghanian. “We communicate in our local language and English as well. We just talk to each other and I let him know the situation around him. Communication was very good.”

In his first game of his second year with Crew SC, Abubakar’s is apparent because he’s grown as a player. And that’s a good thing for the Black & Gold.

“I think I’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “If I look back last year, you can see I’ve learned a lot.”

Abubakar and his Columbus teammates return home this week to MAPFRE Stadium for its home opener Saturday against the Montreal Impact. at 1 p.m. ET.