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Crew survive and advance with Open Cup in 1-0 win over Riverhounds

The Black & Gold found a way to win despite missing several key pieces.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Advancing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup isn’t always about looking pretty but finding a way to get a result. That’s what Columbus Crew SC did on Tuesday night, defeating USL Championship side, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 1-0 at MAPFRE Stadium in the fourth round of the tournament thanks to a second half goal from winger David Accam.

Without seven regular starters due to injury or international competition, the Crew produced a relatively make-shift lineup to start the game. As imagined, this led to a rather disjointed and disappointing opening 45 minutes from the home side. This fact led to only three decent opportunities in the first half.

Just four minutes in, left back Hector Jimenez got behind the Riverhounds defense on hiss side and delivered a low cross back toward the penalty area. Forward Patrick Mullins got on the end of the pass but put his attempt was over the crossbar. In the 15th minute, attacking midfielder Pedro Santos went by two Pittsburgh defenders but had his shot deflected.

The Riverhounds had the best chance of the opening period in the 28th minute. A flick from forward Mark Forrest should have been cleared by right back Harrison Afful. But the fullback missed his attempt to clear and allowed Christian Volesky to run into the penalty box. Fortunately for the Black & Gold, the forward’s shot was right at goalkeeper Jon Kempin.

Columbus’ final decent chance at opening the scoring in the first half came in the 35th minute. Mullins played a quick advancing pass to David Guzman, who rushed into the penalty area. The central midfielder delivered a one-touch return pass to Mullins but the forward could not get to the ball before his marking defender.

An uneventful first half began with the home side pushing for the opening goal. It didn’t take long into the second stanza for the Crew to find the mark.

After being rather ineffective for more than 45 minutes, Santos left his mark in the 56th minute. The attacking midfielder picked the ball up wide and had space to dribble. He lifted his head and found Accam rushing into the penalty box. The Ghanian used a flick to put the ball by goalkeeper Kyle Morton for the 1-0 lead.

Eight minutes later and Santos came close to doubling the lead. After a good bit of ball movement from the Crew, Guzman sent a high cross to the back post. Santos awaited and hit a half volley that was on target but deflected off a defender and behind for a corner kick.

In the 67th minute, Columbus was given another chance to double the lead, this time from the penalty spot. The Black & Gold were awarded the spot kick after Mullins was knocked over while waiting for a ball inside the penalty area. Santos stepped up from 12 yards out but his attempted clanged off the crossbar and the score remained 1-0.

Missing pieces

It’s been a rough year for the Crew when it comes to injuries. Throw in international call-ups and things become even more difficult. As mentioned, the Black & Gold played this Open Cup game without the luxury of seven starters: goalkeeper Zack Steffen (USMNT), defender Jonathan Mensah (Ghanian National Team), center back Josh Williams (heel), left back Waylon Francis (thigh), central midfielder Wil Trapp (USMNT), attacking midfielder Federico Higuain (knee) and forward Gyasi Zardes (USMNT).

Because of this, head coach Caleb Porter had to go with a number of backups, including defender Alex Crognale, midfielder Artur and forward Patrick Mullins. Right back Harrison Afful, who made his return from a broken jaw in this game, also was replaced at halftime by Connor Maloney.

Shoutout problem solved

Columbus began the 2019 season as a very good defensive team. But the recent slew of poor results saw the team fall off the map defensively, conceding 20 goals in the previous 10 matches. The last Black & Gold shutout before this match came in the 1-0 win over the New England Revolution on April 6.

While the competition will only get more difficult as the Open Cup progresses and the team returns to MLS play, it’s always nice to see a zero in the goals conceded line.

What’s next

The Crew’s next opponent will once again be in the Open Cup due to the ongoing Gold Cup break. The Black & Gold will learn their fifth-round opponent during the Thursday draw. The game is expected to be played in the middle of next week.