Merry Crewsmas Eve!
After a long and confusing off season, it’s time for Columbus Crew SC to return home to play soccer at MAPFRE Stadium.
Last week, the Black & Gold proved victorious in a hard fought game against the defending MLS Cup champion, Toronto FC. Federico Higuain continued his 2017 form with an incredible goal in the 44th minute to get Crew SC on the scoreboard. Newcomer Gyasi Zardes opened his account with an impressive strike in the 46th minute off an incredible through ball from Pedro Santos. Columbus exacted some revenge for its 2017 Eastern Conference defeat, cruising to a 2-0 victory.
Meanwhile the Impact are in the midst of a rebuilding cycle with former head coach Mauro Biello departing this off season and former Olympique Lyon manager Remi Garde replacing him.
Throughout his career Garde gained a reputation for developing young talent. With players like Saphir Taider and Jeisson Vargas on the Impact’s roster, fans will need to remain patient as it could be some time before this young group begins to click.
Montreal lost its opening day clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps. There weren’t many moments of brilliance for the Impact, especially after conceding twice within a seven-minute span. Veteran striker Matteo Mancosu provided the only moment of jubilation. scoring the lone Montreal goal late.
Crew SC are undefeated in their last seven regular-season home games (6-0-1). The Black & Gold allowed multiple goals on just one occasion during that span. Columbus has dominated the series against Montreal, winning eights times and scoring 26 goals, 19 of which were inside the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium.
The two teams met twice last season, with a Justin Meram hat trick leading the way for 3-2 victory for Columbus in Montreal in mid-May. A little over a month later, Kekuta Manneh helped jump start the Crew SC offense to a 4-1 win as he scored within minutes of entering the game as a substitute.
Crew SC midfielder Artur was a major contributor against Toronto. He created numerous scoring opportunities for the offense and presented a challenge on defense.
Artur was Man of the Match in #TORvCLB: 83 touches, 51/64 (79.7%) passing, 1 key pass, 8 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 block, 14 recoveries, 11/16 duels won. Excellent performance in midfield, constantly winning the ball back and collecting every loose ball. #CrewSC #MLS #MLSisBack pic.twitter.com/wXyqGbJzzP— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 3, 2018
The Brazilian made it easy to forget about talented strikers like Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Against the less experienced Impact, Artur shouldn’t have a problem controlling the midfield and preventing passes from connecting with veterans like Ignacio Piatti and the aforementioned Mancosu.
The Impact’s 2018 season didn’t begin quite like it hoped. Several key players picked up injuries and expect to miss quite a bit of time. Defender Zakaria Diallo presumably will miss the entire season with a rupture achilles tendon. Kyle Fisher is plagued by a tibia issue and forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel is ruled out with a hamstring issue.
How Crew SC win
MAPFRE Stadium will have an electric atmosphere on Saturday afternoon as fans put an emphasis on the “Fill the ‘Fre” initiative. This should correlate into a great performance from Columbus Crew SC on the pitch.
Expect Gregg Berhalter to come out with the same attacking mindset he presented in Toronto and look for the Crew SC forwards to overpower the Montreal backline. Given the Impact’s injury problems, several defenders like former Crew SC player Jukka Raitala played out of position last week and this could allow Zardes and Higuain a chance to wreak havoc on the defense.
Saturday’s game could present another opportunity for Cristian Martinez to gain confidence in his new role as a starter for Crew SC. The 21 year old could have a field day against Montreal’s patchwork backline. Look for Martinez to generate scoring opportunities for the Black & Gold within the 18-yard-box.
Defensively, Columbus must not lose sight of Piatti and Mancosu. Both players possess the capability of a quick strike and keeping their squad in a tightly contested game. Expect a good defensive match up Saturday afternoon as the Crew SC backline looks to shut down the forwards and keep the Impact off the scoreboard.