For the first time ever, Columbus Crew SC has defeated Atlanta United. The Black & Gold did so, 2-0, on Saturday in a rain-soaked field at MAPFRE Stadium, that featured a near hour weather delay.
It didn’t take long for the Crew to get on the board. The Black & Gold opened the scoring less than two minutes into the contest. Captain Wil Trapp found his central midfield partner Artur making a run out wide behind the Atlanta defense. The Brazilian delivered a low cross that deflected off of United defender Miles Robinson and right to Pedro Santos. The winger calmly finished into the open net for the early lead.
Six minutes later, the Five Stripes had a good chance to level the match. A careless square pass from Harrison Afful was picked up by Julian Gressel near midfield. Black & Gold defender Josh Williams sprinted to try and get to the ball first but could not, leaving space for Atlanta to counter. Fortunately for Columbus, Gressel’s shot from inside the penalty box went wide of Zack Steffen’s goal.
In the 24th minute, Steffen made an impressive save to keep United off the board. The goalkeeper dropped to his left to deny a low Gressel header that appeared destined for the net. Forward Josef Martinez was on the doorstep, looking to poke home the rebound, but was ruled offside.
Just over 30 minutes into the match, the center referee blew his whistle and sent the players and coaches to the locker room and the fans to the concourse due to severe weather in the area. The game was stopped for 58 minutes before both teams were permitted to resume play.
Three minutes after the match began play once more, Steffen again came up big for the Black & Gold. This time, the goalkeeper dove full extension to his right to deny Ezequiel Barco on a one-time shot from inside the box.
Just before halftime, the Crew doubled their lead thanks to last year’s leading scorer Gyasi Zardes. Creative midfielder Federico Higuain played a ball down the wing for Robinho. The Brazilian took his space and found his forward at the penalty spot for a one-time finish and 2-0 lead at the halftime break.
Playing with very difficult field conditions due to the continuing downpour, the second half began. The standing water on the field had a direct impact on a play in the 50th minute when Gressel found space in the penalty box but had the ball hold up its roll during his shot attempt and fired wide. Two minutes later, Atlanta winger Hector Villalba had an opportunity just inside the 18-yard box but his shot was deflected.
In the 54th minute, Robinho had a fantastic opportunity to open his Crew scoring account. The winger was alone at the penalty spot but fired a shot off the post. The rebound fell to Zardes who knocked the ball back into the middle of the penalty area but Robinho did not get up quickly enough to finish the chance.
Three minutes after the missed chance by the winger, the Black & Gold were awarded a penalty kick. United defender Miles Robinson was judged to have pulled down Zardes in the penalty box. Although Atlanta protested, the spot kick was given. Higuain took the penalty kick but had his effort saved by Five Stripes goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
With conditions so poor and the temperature rapidly dropping, the center referee added no stoppage time to the second half and both players and coaches sprinted to the locker rooms.
If or when anyone thinks back to this game in the future, it will be remembered not for the result but rather how poor the field conditions were because of the amount of rain in Columbus on Saturday. After the delay, the amount of standing water made dribbling or doing most things professional soccer players routinely do very difficult. But according to MLS rules, a league game must be played in completion, though it could have been postponed to another date.
Credit to the Crew’s grounds crew who did all they could to make the field as good as possible. There were multiple staff members on the field during the delay and halftime squeegeeing the field to get the water off.
A milestone cut short
Saturday’s game marked the 100th appearance for Black & Gold right back Harrison Afful. The defender, who came to Columbus in July of 2015, has started 97 of his 100 games played for the Crew.
Unfortunately for Afful, the 100th game did not last long. In the 30th minute, Afful collided with teammate Jonathan Mensah and remained down. He was looked at by the medical staff before walking off with a rag to his face. After the weather delay, Afful was substituted for Hector Jimenez. Caleb Porter had no update on the defender following the match.
Assuming the players don’t drown at the team’s training facility in Obetz this week, the Crew will remain at home next weekend when the Black & Gold host the New England Revolution. This will be the second meeting of the year between the two Eastern Conference foes, as Columbus won 2-0 at Gillette Stadium in Week 2 of the season.
The game with the Revolution with kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET from MAPFRE Stadium.