Columbus Crew SC and FC Dallas came into Saturday’s game with the same results. Both managed four points in the standings over their first two matches, having earned a 2-0 win and 1-1 draw respectively. Temperatures at kickoff were frigid. The winds were blustering and the sun dipped in and out of the clouds. While the weather conditions weren’t ideal for the Columbus faithful, the Crew’s play may have been about as sound and entertaining as it could be for a 1-0 victory.
It didn’t take long for the Crew to collect their first home lead of the season as a Pedro Santos 10th minute corner found the back of the net after grazing off the head of current Crew goalscoring king, Gaston Sauro. The big center back scoring in two consecutive home matches is not an accident. His near post runs are purposeful and done by design. When asked at halftime if moving Sauro to forward was a possibility, Coach Porter chuckled and said,“If he keeps scoring like that.”
Porter was barking out instructions to “Press!” early and often. The hard-press kept FC Dallas at bay and out of sorts in the first half. The Crew allowed Dallas to maintain possession in the Black & Gold’s offensive half of the field. Though the meaningful possession certainly came from Columbus. The Crew connected at a higher pass rate and seldom allowed the Hoops to penetrate into Columbus’ defensive third of the field. The Crew were purposeful in morphing to a 4-4-2 formation whenever FC Dallas built out of the back. Forward Gyasi Zardes and midfielder Federico Higuain were the two up top, with wingers Pedro Santos and Robinho dropping back to outside midfield roles.
With a one-goal lead to start the second half, the Crew continued with what worked in the opening stanza: dropping back into a 4-4-2 defensively while the outside backs continued to push forward and the press was on.
It wasn’t until the 56th minute that the first true opportunity for Dallas occurred, when Columbus captain Wil Trapp turned the ball over near midfield and Dallas broke towards goal. Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen came off of his line, got a piece of the shot and it was cleared before nearing the goal line by Sauro. Outside of that blunder, the Crew thoroughly outplayed FCD the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
The pace of the game slowed as the game entered the 65th minute. Former FC Dallas legend David Ferria’s son, Jesus Ferreira came in for Santiago Mosquera in the 69th minute, to help push the pace and re-energize the visitors. Head coach Caleb Porter once again elected to begin his substitutions late in the match, waiting until the 78th minute to swap Robinho for Justin Meram. Ricardo Clark replaced Artur in the 87th minute to hold down the lead.
Dallas threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Black & Gold in second half stoppage time, as they created a slew of offensive opportunities, keeping the nearly 10,000 fans at MAPFRE Stadium on the edge of their seats. The Crew held strong and earned their first home victory of 2019 via a 1-0 shutout.
A mere three games into the Porter regime, this was certainly the most complete performance we have seen thus far. The team defense was stout and nearly impenetrable. The offense combined for a multitude of scoring opportunities in the final third and a myriad of passing combinations in build up throughout the pitch.
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The Crew outside backs were pushing up extremely high when Columbus was building into the attacking third. Santos and Afful in particular were overlapping one another all throughout the first half. The outside backs were pushing so high up the pitch, permitted Santos and Robinho to pinch in and play narrower.
Porter is not a man who is afraid to tweak lineups. He made that abundantly clear just three matches into his tenure in charge of Columbus, as he elected to replace longtime Crew starter Justin Meram. The winger has been lackluster at best in the first two contests of the season. In his place, the much-hyped Brazilian, Robinho, who was active from the opening whistle. He showed his pace, foot skill, and energy.
The Crew hit the road next Saturday, March 23, as they travel to Philadelphia to battle the Union. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET.