In Major League Soccer, grinding out a road draw and earning a point can be a tall task. Capturing all three points is a rarity. Columbus Crew SC went on the road to the New England Revolution and, despite a lackluster overall performance, the Crew pulled out a 2-0 win against the Revs’.
The fast playing turf field at Gillette Stadium took some getting used to for the Crew, despite practicing on turf fields in Columbus throughout the week. The speed of play and enormous bounces seemed troublesome at times. While each team had spurts of owning the possession battle, neither was able to maintain possession for any length of time in the opening stanza. Prior to scoring their first goal of the game, the Crew looked out of synch in the first 45 minutes.
In spite of the inconsistent play, the Black & Gold capitalized on their one dangerous chance of the half. The goal stemmed from winger Pedro Santos sending a beautiful, uncontested left-footed cross, which was converted by an on-running Gyasi Zardes in 27th minute. Zardes opened his 2019 goal scoring account with a beautifully timed run and perfectly placed header for the finish. The cross was pristine, the header was clinical, and the road lead was in hand.
To counter the one-goal deficit, Revs’ head coach, Brad Friedel made two halftime substitutions. Diego Fagundez was thrust into the attack for an ineffective, Cristian Penilla and Homegrown talent Justin Rennicks came on for Juan Agudelo.
It was the aforementioned Fagundez who forced goalkeeper Zack Steffen to make his first true save of the game in the 50th minute via a free kick from 20 yards out.
Steffen followed up that save with another on Fagundez via a controversial penalty kick stop in the 59th minute. The soccer Gods intervened and brought justice to what was a soft call against Gaston Sauro in the penalty box. Steffen has become notorious for stopping penalty kicks and you have to wonder if the mental battle is already won when MLS veterans, like Fagundez, step up to the spot. Steffen read the run up of Fagundez perfectly and extended to his right goal post to make the save.
The nail in the coffin for New England came thanks to a second tally from Zardes in stoppage time. We know Steffen’s hands are remarkable, but the long bomb pass with his feet ignited the second and final goal of the match. The keeper extraordinaire sent a laser guided pass to a countering Hector Jimenez who provided a calm, cool and collected pass to a streaking Zardes. The forward broke through the Revs’ backline and blasted the shot by goalkeeper, Brad Knighton.
A win doesn’t always have to be aesthetically pleasing. Three points on the road is not an easy task to accomplish in MLS. The Crew were able to hold on and grind out a shutout victory. While the overall performance was full of peaks and valleys and the gameplay was inconsistent at times, the Crew were able to earn the first win of the Caleb Porter era.
Throughout the offseason Porter was adamant that the outside backs need to push up the field in order to create space and opportunities. Francis and Afful were much higher up the field this week, as opposed to Week 1 versus the New York Red Bulls. Defensive minded central midfielders, Wil Trapp and Artur were dropping deep into the defensive third of the field, often times playing more as center backs than central midfielders.
Crew winger Justin Meram once again had an unproductive showing. His body language throughout the match looked deflated and lacking confidence. Robinho came in for the sluggish Meram in the 73rd minute and brought some added pace and flair in his few touches on the ball.
No matter who you are a fan of, it was pleasant to see an extremely soft straight red card against the Revs be overturned. Outside back Brandon Bye was given a straight red card for a very minor elbow graze to the face of Pedro Santos. Yes, Santos made a meal out of it, but the VAR suggested that center referee, Dave Ganter take another look, and the correct call was administered. Thumbs up!