Columbus Crew SC fought off fatigue and a rough week of cross country travel to defeat the Colorado Rapids 2-1 on a beautiful early fall evening. Gyasi Zardes and Federico Higuain goals powered Columbus on the evening as they were enough to overcome a shock Shkelzen Gashi goal that briefly put the game in doubt.
Higuain nearly got Crew SC on the board in the 15th minute. Artur switched the ball towards Harrison Afful. The right back cut in and dropped the pass into the penalty area, but Higuain pushed his uncontested shot wide of the post.
Crew SC didn’t have to wait long to break through though. Just two minutes later Justin Meram drove a ball into the box. Higuain clipped a pass through the backline and sent Zardes in on goal. He calmly beat a stranded Tim Howard to put Columbus up 1-0.
For the next 10 minutes, Crew SC would take the game to the visitors, but it was a heads up play by Gashi that would give the Rapids a shock goal. Colorado earned a foul outsider the Crew SC box. While the Zack Steffen attempted to set the wall, they didn’t put a man on the free kick. The Albanian attacker lifted a shot over the mass of black jerseys and into the undefended net.
The goal unsettled the Columbus rhythm as they struggled with their sharpness on the ball. The Rapids were unable to turn any of their defensive work into shots. Crew SC would have a chance before halftime. Josh Willams would redirect a corner on the Rapids goal, but Howard again was up to the challenge and parried the ball wide.
The second half would further tilt toward Crew SC when Colorado earned a red card with Deklan Wynne coming in with a knee to Pedro Santos’ backside. Chapman quickly pulled out the card and the Rapids were down to 10 for the rest of the way.
Crew SC pressed the advantage immediately and it didn’t take them long to get rewarded. Wil Trapp switched the ball wide to Milton Valenzuela. The left back would take a touch and get tackled, but the ball ricocheted right to Higuain. From a similar spot as his first half miss, he buried the shot and it was 2-1 Crew SC in the 57th minute.
Columbus would raise the pressure on the visitors after the goal. They would pepper Howard with eight shots through the end of the game, but would be unable to pad their lead. The Rapids would fail to get off a shot against Crew SC in the remaining 30 minutes. Down a man, the visitors had no way to get back into the game.
That Rapids Goal
Colorado didn’t create many chances tonight. They only had three shots, but one turned into a goal by a bit of trickery. The Rapids had a free kick chance from just outside the box. Zardes stood over the ball, but stepped back when referee Chapman told the Crew SC players to back up. Given Chapman’s directive, Zardes later said, “I’m going to get back thinking it’s on the whistle.” The assembled Columbus players obliged, but there wasn’t a whistled restart. Gashi unleashed his free kick while Steffen was on the wrong side of goal.
Chapman was reported saying that the Rapids never asked for 10 yards and it wouldn’t be a whistled restart, but each of the interviewed Crew SC players noted Chapman telling the defense to back up. Postgame, Higuain also felt Chapman’s handling of the situation was odd, “I think it was a big big mistake by the referee” adding “it wasn’t a mistake by 10 players.”
As reported earlier, USMNT GM Earnie Stewart was at the game. When asked postgame, Crew SC head coach provided a short “no comment” in regards to any reports linking him to the job. He did later point out that four U.S. pool players were in the game. Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Zack Steffen, and Kellyn Acosta were recent call-ups to the national team and all four played 90 minutes. The Crew SC trio were instrumental in leading Columbus to victory. Zardes tied his career high with his 16th goal on the year, while Steffen and Trapp were excellent. Acosta is a good player on a bad team. Stewart is now more familiar with four key national teamers. He also has a first hand look at how Gregg Berhalter manages a game if he’s interested in that type of thing.
Columbus improves to 13-9-8 with 47 points. They have a four point cushion over fifth place Philadelphia who plays Sporting Kansas City tomorrow afternoon. They are also only three points behind third place New York City FC.
After a busy week, Crew SC finally have a moment to rest with the next game a week away. They will face Philadelphia United on September 29th at 7:30pm at MAPFRE Stadium for what is shaping up to be a battle to secure fourth place and push higher.