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Crew pleased with road performance, win but wants more

The Black & Gold picked up the first three points of the season but still see room for improvements.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New England Revolution Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last Saturday’s trip to Gillette Stadium, the Columbus Crew SC coaches and players were focused on getting not only the first win of 2019 but the team’s first away victory of the new season. The Black & Gold accomplished that with a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution, thanks to two goals from forward Gyasi Zardes and key saves from goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Head coach Caleb Porter came away from the contest pleased with his team after showing they could go away from home, still play their style and manage to grind out a full three points.

“I thought there were a lot of positives,” he said this week. “Going on the road, everyone knows that (New England’s) a team that hadn’t lost in 13 years in their opener. This club hadn’t won in seven or eight somebody told me. First and foremost, the positive is you go and win on the road. That’s important, especially in your first game. I’ve always felt when you can get that first road win early, it opens up, hopefully, the floodgates for more wins because you gain that belief and confidence.”

After a season-opening 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls where Porter felt his team left goals on the field, he was pleased with the control the Crew showed for large periods in the first and second halves against the Revolution. According to Porter, the play from box to box was about even against New England — after the Black & Gold won that part of the field in Week 1 — but Columbus was the better team in the penalty boxes, where Zardes was clinical on his two goals and the defenders did a good job making tackles and getting the ball away from their net.

While Porter was pleased with the Crew’s performance, for the most part, he still believes his side can keep the ball better and create even more chances going forward.

But three points on the road against a team that only lost four times at home all of last season was an overall positive, especially with how the Black & Gold played.

“I always felt too on the road, you’re going to have grind for periods because the home team’s always going to have a push, they’re always going to want to attack, they’re always going to want to press you, they’re always going to want to reward their supporters with three points,” Porter said. “So I thought from that standpoint, getting the result, showing we can grind a bit through some choppy moments was a real positive.”

One key to winning on the road is getting control of the game early. Although New England came out aggressive, it was Columbus that scored the opening goal in the 26th minute. Winger Pedro Santos pulled away from his man-marker on the right side, picked up the ball on the left before curling a cross into the penalty box for a headed finish for Zardes.

The play was an example of Santos reading the situation and making a decision for the benefit of the team, something Porter believes players have to do within the system. He lost his marker and gave the Crew an important opening goal.

“It’s always better when we score first because it gives tranquility for the team and gives confidence for the game,” the winger said. “We knew it was a tough game. If we conceded the first goal, it was more complicated for us to score and it’s hard. But the first goal is always good for us and after the goal, they looked to attack more and opened space behind and we can explore this space and it’s better for the team.”

For Columbus, it was a good way to start the road slate in 2019, earning the team’s first three points of the year and maintaining the positive momentum surrounding the club since the team was saved in January.

Captain Wil Trapp, though, is not under any false pretenses that one road win means more will come for the Black & Gold. The Crew began last season with a victory at Toronto FC but only won twice more away from MAPFRE Stadium the rest of the year.

“We won our first game of the year last year away, so I don’t really think we look at it so much as a hurdle to jump over,” Trapp said. “I just think it’s good to get the three points to win. The stigma that it’s difficult to win on the road, I think almost builds it up more than it should. We try to address the games the same, home or away. We want to try to dominate the ball, we want to try to dominate the opponent and score goals and I think that was what we did in the game in a lot of ways. In terms of it being a milestone or anything like that, I just think we just look at it as a game that we won.”

Columbus wants to be more successful away from home this year than the team has been in seasons past. Porter has made that an emphasis since taking over as head coach in January. But overall, the Black & Gold are just trying to be better overall, and that means earning three points wherever the game is played.

“It’s an important win when we tie in the first game at home,” Santos said. “To get this win away is important for us; it brings confidence for the team. We want to win all the games. It’s harder but we want to win home or away. We’re working to win and I hope to win the next game we play.”