Columbus Crew SC took to the road on Saturday, hoping to return home with the team’s second away win of the year. That was not to be as the Black & Gold struggled again offensively, failing to find the back of the net for the second time in 2019, falling 1-0 to the Montreal Impact The field conditions at Stade Saputo were troublesome for both clubs. The sod was brown, patchy and hard. Add in the gusts of wind, it made for a peculiar game, to say the least.
The first half saw both squads create opportunities, though in different ways. The Crew possessed and built through each third of the field, while the Impact created via swift and opportune counters. Columbus had a beautiful scoring opportunity in the 22nd minute, thanks to a shot from creative midfielder Federico Higuain. Fullback Hector Jimenez found himself in the 18-yard box with plenty of space in front of him. Instead of shooting, he elected to cross the ball to Higuain, but he shot was saved by Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush.
Robinho earned another start on the wing, and had two dangerous opportunities in a matter of a few minutes, including in the 26th minute where Bush came off his line to make the save with his gut. The game had its moments of methodical play, but also spurts of pacey counters and breakouts.
The Crew’s season-long inability to finish in the run of play showed itself in the 39th minute when forward Gyasi Zardes came inches away from tallying the first goal of the match. A turnover by Montreal led to connected passes from Pedro Santos to Higuain, which fell to the feet of Zardes but the striker pushed his shot just wide. It was without question Columbus’ most noteworthy scoring chance of the first half. The rugged turf may have even played a part in keeping the ball from finding the goal. The spin of the ball off the deflected touch by Zardes bounced erratically off the pitch just in front of the goal line.
The center back pairing of Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams was solid throughout most the contest until Williams headed a hopeless ball to an unsuspecting Mensah. The Ghanian erratically tried heading it back to Williams but the ball found itself onto the foot of an on-running Maxi Urruti, who sped towards goal, turned, dropped a pass to Harry Novillo who blasted a banger low and to the near post and into the net. The tally was Novillo’s first in Major League Soccer and was one to remember, as it was goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s first goal given up since the season opener, ending his shutout streak at 499 minutes.
The Crew’s most promising goal scoring opportunity was undoubtedly in the 72nd minute when a wild sequence saw a Crew corner kick led to the ball hitting the bottom of the crossbar and saved off the line by Montreal. Video Assistant Review was used and confirmed that the ball did not cross the line.
The Impact was extremely patient and sound defensively in their 4-5-1 block. After popping in the goal, Montreal became even more systematic, willing to absorb pressure and allow Columbus to possess at will. The Crew did what they could to penetrate the defensive block, but were unable to coax the Impact forward. The Blue & Black were adamant about staying low and countering if and when opportunities presented themselves. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, they were unable to dissect the Impact’s defense.
Possession: Montreal 43% / Columbus 57%
Shots: Montreal 13 / Columbus 11
Saves: Evan Bush 5 / Zack Steffen 6
Passes Completed: Montreal 489 / Columbus 640
Contrary to what we have seen the majority of the season, head coach Coach Porter used his substitutions early and often. Winger Justin Meram came in for a mostly ineffective Pedro Santos in the 58th minute, the earliest non-injury related sub we have seen from Porter this season. Niko Hansen substituted for Robinho in the 74th minute. Patrick Mullins entered for Hector Jimenez, to add an additional attacker late in the contest.
The Crew return home next weekend for what should be a memorable match. Caleb Porter will lead the Black & Gold against his former side, the Portland Timbers. That match will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on April 20.