Road points are extremely valuable in Major League Soccer. Depending on the circumstances in which they were earned, they can become even more important.
That was certainly the case with Columbus Crew SC on Saturday, as the Black & Gold grinded to sustain a scoreless tie with the Seattle Sounders at the CenturyLink Field. What made this result more impressive was the Black & Gold playing with 10 men for 75 minutes, after Pedro Santos was sent off early in the match.
“What the guys did out there is spectacular,” said goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who led Crew SC to its third road shutout on the season. “The way they grinded and just ran for 75 minutes and battled. We were so compact and connected. We talked before the game about being a wolf pack and that is exactly what we showcased.
“Our outside backs had to do a lot of running, our center backs had to do a lot of running and our midfielders had to do a lot of running to get pressure out there. To be down a man and away against Seattle is really tough, so I am really, really proud with how the guys played today.”
Man, that was fun! Never easy going down a man but moments like that test you individually and collectively-we passed the test today. Also, Milton is an animal and Pipa might be our best defensive player— Josh Williams (@josh3williams) May 5, 2018
The team’s determination and organization to keep playing in a balanced style after Santos was shown the red card was encouraging for Crew SC fans and, obviously, also for head coach Gregg Berhalter.
The coach, who had to make some tactical changes to adjust the team on the field, was proud of the effort displayed by his players and pleased by the toughness the team showed to make it through a tough situation for such a long period.
“I’m proud of the guys,” he commented. “I think it was an outstanding effort. The way we organized ourselves, defended and stayed disciplined with the defending was excellent. Under difficult conditions, on turf, pretty warm, down a man — I think the guys did a great job.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the game was how Columbus managed to keep the Sounders, the back-to-back Western Conference champions, under control for the entirety of the game.
In matches like this, when the home team has numerical advantage for such a large portion, it’s common to see the road side playing under heavy pressure, but that was not always the case in Seattle, as the Sounders managed to get only one shot on target during the entire match — although the home side did have 17 total to Crew SC’s five.
“We needed to continue to slide, defend as a unit and continue to be a solid block that was difficult to break down, and I think we did that,” Berhalter added. “We opened up very little passing lanes through the middle so everything had to go wide. Then when we were wide, we had numbers in the penalty box to defend it.”
What a collective effort from the guys today. Sticking together and battling . See you Wednesday #CrewSC— William Trapp (@wil_trapp) May 5, 2018
More impressively, it’s not absurd to say that if the match were to have a winner, it should have been Columbus. The Black & Gold had a couple of great opportunities with Gyasi Zardes and Milton Valenzuela each missing on good chances and could have left Seattle with all three points.
However, for Crew SC’s right back Hector Jimenez, who played his 100th match with the club, the way the point was earned will bring a lot of confidence to the team as the season moves forward and Columbus returns home for back-to-back matches against Eastern Conference opponents in the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday and the Chicago Fire next Saturday.
“To be honest, I think we had the clearest chances after we went a man down,” the defender remarked. “We were just unfortunate to not get a goal. We fought like dogs out there. I am just really proud with everyone and this scenario. This point is going to go a long way in our season.”