Columbus Crew SC did it again. The Black & Gold won for the sixth time in six attempts at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night, defeating Minnesota United 2-1. And although it wasn’t in shutout fashion, as the previous five victories were, three points is three points and Columbus will be happy to take all three home.
As for the performance, it was a bit of an up-and-down night for the Crew. The home side controlled the game throughout the first half, but came away with just one goal despite multiple opportunities. The second was more even before the Black & Gold found the second goal and Minnesota began to push forward. A late finish from the visitors made the ending nervy and a stoppage time equalizer was only denied by the offside flag of the assistant referee.
Here is how the Columbus players performed in finding a way to get three points against United:
Eloy Room (6.5) - The Crew goalkeeper had a busier night than many this season. While he only faced two shots on goal, making a nice save on one, Minnesota was active in Columbus’ defensive third for good chunks of the match, forcing Room to stay on his toes and come collect a number of crosses.
Harrison Afful (7.5) - Looking like the best right back in MLS, as Gregg Berhalter used to call him, is hard for Afful on a night-in, night-out basis now that he is 34. But on Wednesday night, the Ghanian put in that kind of performance. It wasn’t perfect defensively, as it rarely is with Afful, but he did well on the right side and was very active offensively with two dangerous crosses and an 84.9 completion percentage on his 73 pass attempts.
Jonathan Mensah © (6.5) - The standards are high for Jonathan, who is putting together a case for MLS Defender of the Year. Wednesday night was solid from the center back, but not his best performance of the season. He tied for the team lead with three clearances but made no tackles (largely due to how Minnesota attacked from out wide) and committed one unnecessary foul.
Josh Williams (6.5) - Similar to Jonathan, it was a good, not great night from Williams, who returned to the starting 11 after a game off on Saturday. He once again battled hard with two clearances and one interception.
Milton Valenzuela (6) - It was a mixed back for the Argentinean fullback against Minnesota. Defensively, Valenzuela led the team with two blocked shots, as well as two tackles but was beaten easily by Robin Lod on United’s goal. Offensively, Valenzuela only attempted one cross and was near the team low with a 71.8 passing completion percentage.
Artur (7.5) - If you ask Porter, Artur was the man of the match against the Loons. The Brazilian midfielder “did the work of two guys,” with Darlington Nagbe out and Alashe getting hurt early in the match. Artur completed 90.8 percent of his passes and hit on seven of his 11 attempted long balls. He also contributed with two tackles, but did take a late yellow card that put Minnesota in a dangerous set piece position.
Fatai Alashe (N/A) - Alashe played just 19 minutes before being substituted. Porter said after the game that he thought it was a “little strain.”
Luiz Diaz (7.5) - Lost in the talk of the Crew’s attack much of this year has been Diaz, who frankly has been inconsistent. But in this match, the Costa Rican was active and made smart decisions, putting dangerous balls in the penalty box, earning a penalty kick and even working hard defensively in the second half.
Lucas Zelarayan (8) - In his first start since early September, Zelarayan demonstrated once again why the Crew paid club-record money for him. The Argentinean No. 10 scored a great headed goal to open the scoring, hit the post on a potential Goal of the Year shot and assisted on Santos’ game-winning finish. He also completed 84.4 percent of his passes, including two key passes. The only blemish on the night was the inexplicable missed penalty kick right before half time.
Pedro Santos (9) - Welcome back Pedro Santos. The Portuguese winger was in vintage form against United, tucking into a central role at times, spreading out to the wings and being all-in-all undefendable. The no-look cross to Zelarayan for the first goal was a thing of beauty and the way Santos cut up Romain Métanire before finishing from a tight angle capped off a great night.
Gyasi Zardes (7) - When Zardes doesn’t score in a game, he still finds a way to impact it. That was the case on Wednesday. Zardes’ movement and passing were good all night and he occupied a defender, helping to open space for his fellow attackers to do the damage on the scoreboard.
Sebastian Berhalter (6.5) - Berhalter came in for the injured Alashe in the 19th minute and showed again that he is capable of playing at this level. The rookie completed more than 90 percent of his passes, playing a composed game, and managed two shots and one key pass. If Alashe is going to miss time, the Crew at least knows the team has a solid third option in Berhalter.
Youness Mokhtar (6) - With the Crew up 2-0, Mokhtar came into the game to help kill it off. He did that by mostly keeping the ball and helping on the counter attack.
Derrick Etienne Jr. (6) - Etienne entered the game at the same time as Mokhtar and his role was similar. He helped defensively and used his speed to get out on the break when the opportunity presented itself.
Caleb Porter (7.5) - The first half was very well executed by the Crew. After struggling to break Minnesota down at the MLS is Back Tournament, Columbus did that time and time again in the opening 45 minutes and should have been up by more than one goal. Porter deserves credit for that. The Black & Gold head coach, though, also took the blame for his team losing control of the match early in the second half and giving up far too many chances, specifically set pieces, as the game wound down. Porter will be thankful the sideline official was paying attention on the stoppage time offside call.
Who was the Crew’s Man of the Match against Minnesota United?
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