Columbus Crew SC was winless in four previous regular season matchups versus Atlanta United but pulled out a 2-0 victory in horrendous conditions at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night. Atlanta was not in the comfy confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as the high-octane attack was slowed by the Crew defense and tumultuous weather. A torrential downpour prior to the match made the playing surface slick even before the opening whistle. The conditions progressively worsened as the game matured. At various points, the Crew grounds staff used massive squeegees in an attempt to clear the six-yard boxes and sidelines. MAPFRE Stadium is generally known for having one of the higher quality fields in the league, but Mother Nature showed her dominance in this match.
How did the players on the field grade out?
Zack Steffen (9.5) – This is as close to a perfect 10 score as I will probably ever dole out. Steffen showed why he was the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. The future Manchester City man made a pair of dazzling diving saves and perfectly handled aerial balls in terrible conditions. He came off of his line to make a massive save to preserve the shutout in the 85th minute. Additionally, he showed his astute soccer IQ by killing as many precious seconds as he could whenever the ball was at his feet.
Harrison Afful (NA) – The King started and made his 100th appearance for Columbus, but unfortunately had to depart prematurely in the 31st minute due to a facial injury.
Jonathan Mensah (8) – Despite the horrible conditions, Mensah played as calm and cool as a center back could. He deflected what would have been a dangerous shot in 52nd minute. The big man was calm and cool on the ball and led the backline in stifling the United offense.
Josh Williams (5.5) – The MLS veteran seemed a bit anxious and overzealous in the first action of the season. A mere seven minutes into the game he had ill-advisedsed and missed slide tackle that left his fellow backline teammates in peril. He followed that up with a silly foul in the 12th minute. As the game progressed, Williams settled into the run of play and helped the Black & Gold earn a shutout.
Waylon Francis (6.5) – Coming off a return to the Costa Rican national team for the first time in three years, Francis found minimal opportunities to push into the attack. Given the conditions and the result, it wasn’t a detriment to Columbus. Francis marked well defensively and connected passes when called upon.
Wil Trapp (8) – Carrying momentum from his terrific U.S. Men’s National Team play, Trapp was on-point in his return to the Crew lineup. He linked the defense to the attack often, playing the ball as quick as the drenched field would allow. Trapp started the domino effect of passes that led to the first goal of the game by slotting a perfectly weighted ball to a forward attacking Artur. While the pass didn’t officially find itself onto the stat sheet, it was a critical assist nonetheless. In the match’s waning moments, the heady captain killed several moments of time with some beautiful keep away work from Brek Shea. We can call this a complete game for the captain.
Artur (7.5) – Artur seemed to be back to his normal dependable self. Much like his center midfield brethren, Artur connected passes efficiently and was very sound defensively. He looked to be 100 percent healed up after playing through a bit of a knock last week. His pass across the goal box to Santos led to the opening goal.
Pedro Santos (8) – Under Porter, the skillful winger is playing his best futbol in Columbus. He tallied his second-ever Crew goal, as he finished off a beautiful build up by the Black & Gold in the 2nd minute of the match. The goal seemed to ignite his play, as Santos hustled up and down the field, exhibiting an extremely high work rate. Displaying phenomenal footwork, Santos juggled the ball, mid-run, four or five times, over the span of about 20 yards, but then fell over himself and turned the ball over. The Jekyll & Hyde moments continue for the Portuguese Designated Player. Though, this performance was of high quality.
Federico Higuain (8) – Silky smooth as ever with the ball at his feet and laser-precise passes, Higuain was feeling it on Saturday. On the second goal, Higuain earned an assist, tying the club assist record. His passing both near and long were deadly accurate, finding his attacking teammates in dangerous spots. Had the field not been so disastrous, his teammates may have added another assist or two to Pipa’s total. Disappointingly, he once again missed a penalty kick in the south end of the stadium, which was well read and saved by Guzan. Regardless, the effort and execution beyond the PK was tremendous.
Robinho (8) – It was Robinho’s best showing with Columbus thus far. The Brazilian ran wild along the flank. He recorded his first assist with the Black & Gold when he sent a beautiful ball to Zardes for the second goal of the match. Robinho later clanked a shot from inside the penalty area off the post in the 54th minute. Had the pacey winger continued to play, rather than sulk on the ground, he very likely may have scored his first goal for Columbus. Despite that hiccup, he put in a complete performance.
Gyasi Zardes (8) - Also, returning from USMNT duty, Zardes finished off the aforementioned Robinho cross with a wonderful left-footed strike in the 39th minute. He later drew a penalty kick in the 57th minute while battling for possession with Atlanta defender Miles Robinson. Zardes was extremely active and found himself all over the attacking side of the field. Even beyond the goal, Zardes had a very productive outing for the Crew.
Hector Jimenz (6.5) – The utilitarian Jimenez replaced Afful immediately after the weather delay. While the elements kept the outside back attacking to a minimum, Jimenez wasn’t particularly noteworthy on either side of play. His substitution work contributed to a shutout, so kudos earned there.
Ricardo Clark (6.5) – The veteran bounced back from a subpar performance last week. He was inserted for Higuain in the 73rd minute and played his role admirably, as he added another layer of defense to cement the victory. Clark cleared a dangerous ball in his own 18-yard box and connected passes to build out of the defensive third.
Justin Meram (NA) – The Iraqi international was brought on in the 81st minute for Santos, but didn’t garner enough minutes to make an impact one way or the other.
Caleb Porter (8.5) – During his halftime interview, Porter called this match “a unique game.” No truer words have ever been uttered. Say what you might about the conditions working against Atlanta, but the Crew had to play in the same weather and on the same treacherous field. Porter had his team ready to combat the elements and the Five Stripes. His substitutions were well timed and smartly placed. The Crew deserved the full three points.
Attending Crew Fans (10) - For the few thousand faithful Crew fans who braved the horrendous conditions, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing soccer game to witness. However, the 2-0 outcome sure was ideal. MAPFRE Stadium was frigid, wet and windy. I trust that the Crew victory mitigated those unsatisfactory circumstances. Kudos to those of you who stuck it out. You earned a perfect 10 in my book!
Who was the Crew’s Man of the Match versus Atlanta?
This poll is closed