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Game Grades: Crew vs. Chicago Fire

See how each of the 16 players who played performed on the Carolina Challenge Cup opener.

MLS: Carolina Challenge Cup-Chicago Fire at Columbus Crew Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC kicked off its campaign at the 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup with a 1-1 draw with MLS rivals Chicago Fire in Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday. The Black & Gold, which won the last two editions of the tournament, had just 10 men on the field for most of the game, as captain Wil Trapp was sent off at the 30th minute.

Head coach Caleb Porter used five substitutes aside from his 11 starters and now it’s time to see how each of them performed in the game.

Zack Steffen (6.5) – The National Team goalkeeper was safe for the entire match except when he made a mistake on distribution. He was competent to save a short-range shot from Brandt Bronico and lucky to see the ball explode off his right post on another play later in the game.

Harrison Afful (6) – The fullback had a night quieter than usual and he was only dangerous in a couple of good runs in the second half. He handled Chicago’s offense well for the most part, but had a bad turnover that ended with a shot on Steffen’s post.

Jonathan Mensah (6) – The Ghanaian did well when he had to defend, but was shaky at times when he had the ball. He had some important tackles, but seemed to be one step behind Djordje Mihailovic on Chicago’s goal.

Gaston Sauro (7) – The Argentinean was solid and seems ready to secure a starting spot when the season starts. Sauro dominated the Crew’s penalty box and deflected a number of crosses going into it, keeping Nemanja Nikolic under control while he was on the field.

Waylon Francis (7) – The left back had a good night on his return to the Crew, leaving the field with one assist. Francis had a good connection with Meram and also some important defensive actions. He probably won’t be as effective as Milton Valenzuela, but his crossing ability could be a weapon to the team.

Wil Trapp © (3) – The captain was deployed in a different role when the team was in possession, filling space in midfield and not between the center backs as he used to do with Gregg Berhalter. He had a smart head pass that found Zardes inside the penalty box, but was sent off in the 30th minute after a play that seemed to be unintentional, but was certainly reckless.

Artur (7) – The Brazilian played a pivotal role in the team’s performance as he controlled the central portion of the field almost single-handedly by recovering balls and covering a lot of space for the most part of the game. Understandably, he didn’t push forward as frequently as usual.

Pedro Santos (5) – The Portuguese winger wasn’t effective on the offensive end as he wasn’t much involved in the team’s actions and struggled to advance when he had the ball. His defensive work came in handy, though, as the team had just 10 players on the field for most of the night.

Federico Higuain (7) – The veteran playmaker was forced to drop deeper and to sacrifice his production to help the team on defense after Trapp’s exit. He did a good job in that and still found space to create for his teammates despite his unusual positioning.

Justin Meram (5) – The Iraqi international had good and bad moments during the 65 minutes he remained on the field. Although he seemed to immediately regain his chemistry with Francis on the left side, he couldn’t find ways to be dangerous himself.

Gyasi Zardes (7.5) – The striker seemed to not have missed a step from his 2018 career season as he was precise to finish Francis’ cross into the back of the net with a lethal header. He also moved smartly up front, creating havoc on Chicago’s defense. His hard work on pressing defenders could become even more important under Porter.

Hector Jimenez (6) – The versatile player came in for Meram in the 60th minute, when the Fire was forcing the game through its left side, and did a fine job on helping Afful to defend.

Ricardo Clark (6) – The veteran came in for Higuain after 70 minutes and helped Artur to keep control of the midfield. He was also important on distribution and relieved the center backs from the pressure.

Lalas Abubakar (N/A) – The Ghanaian replaced Sauro with just 13 minutes to play and due to the fact that the game slowed down near the end, he didn’t have much to worry about.

Robinho (N/A) – The Brazilian was sent to field in Santos’ place in the 81st minute and didn’t have much of the ball to show his game. He was disciplined to hold his spot defensively though.

JJ Williams (N/A) – The rookie forward had just six minutes on the field after he replaced Zardes and came into the game with a lot of energy.

Caleb Porter (6.5) – The match ended up being a good test for the Crew as the team was challenged to play against a MLS opponent with just 10 men on the field for most of the night. If under these conditions it was impossible for the Black & Gold to show their offensive power, it was a good display of defensive cohesiveness. The team’s behavior, especially in the first half, was promising.