The Columbus Crew returned home on Saturday afternoon, welcoming Toronto FC to historic Crew Stadium. The Crew continued its strong play at the venue it will say goodbye to after 22-plus years later this season with a 2-1 win against the Reds, snapping a five-game winless streak against the team’s Trillium Cup rivals.
After dominating the first half and getting goals from winger Luis Diaz and forward Gyasi Zardes, the Black & Gold held on following a second half finish from TFC’s Ayo Akinola to secure the team’s third victory of the 2021 MLS season. Columbus now takes the three points into a three-week break.
There will be plenty of time to look ahead of that break, but before we do, let’s take a look back at what we learned from the win against Toronto.
Crew fans need to let go
There’s a tradition among sports fans that when a player does something that upsets a fanbase, that fanbase will boo that player when he or she arrives to their stadium. In soccer, the boo birds come out whenever the offending player touches the ball. This occurred on Saturday with Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley.
Bradley was a part of the United States Men’s National Team that lost to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 and failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Fans across the country have since been frustrated with Bradley and the other players that were on that roster.
The Toronto midfielder vilified himself further by making comments about the Crew when former owner Anthony Precourt attempted to relocate the team to Austin, Texas. Because of this, and possibly other reasons, Black & Gold fans don’t like Bradley. But it’s time to let this anger go.
Despite the failures in 2017, Bradley was a mainstay for the U.S. and played an important part in the team’s success over his 151 caps for his country. He has also been important for the continued growth of MLS, electing to return from Europe to be a part of the league during his prime. His opinions on the Crew, while disliked outside of Columbus, were only put out there because he was asked.
The Black & Gold supporters had a right to be upset with Bradley but the booing when he touches the ball at historic Crew Stadium has gone on too long. The Americans have moved on to a new group of exciting, young players under the leadership of former Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter. The Crew stayed in Columbus and won an MLS Cup championship a year ago.
Continuing to boo Bradley, one of the recent greats in the American game, is a poor reflection on a fanbase that has done so much good for the sport in recent years.
Pedro Santos is quite the utility player
The Black & Gold came into the season without Hector Jimenez, a player who in recent years was able to play a number of positions for the club. The Crew added several depth pieces this offseason, hoping there would be no need for players to step into non-traditional roles. But an early-season injury bug has hit and Caleb Porter has had to make adjustments to his starting 11.
Regular left back Milton Valenzuela has missed the last seven games with an injury and his backup, Waylon Francis, was out with an injury against TFC. Porter elected to move winger Pedro Santos back to left back, a position he has played before but is certainly not his natural spot. This worked to perfection with Santos registering assists on both of the Crew’s goals.
Beyond the stats, Santos was much more active going forward on the left side than Francis has been in recent games, providing Columbus with an offensive outlet on either side of the field. He also worked well with winger Derrick Etienne Jr. both offensively and defensively throughout the match.
In the second half, when midfielder Artur had to leave the match, Santos slotted into the center of the field, playing the final 16 minutes in a role in which he is even less familiar. While not a true defensive midfielder, Santos again demonstrated that he can play another role — in addition to lining up on either wing or as a No. 10 for the Crew.
While Porter will hope to have a healthier team after the three-week break, it is always comforting to know there is a player on the roster who can comfortably slot in at other roles when needed and Santos proved his versatility once again.
The Crew can grind out a result
With the way the first half played out, it looked like the Black & Gold might coast to a win against a struggling Toronto side. While up two at halftime, it easily could have been more if Columbus took its chances in front of goal and fans in the stadium had to think there were more to come in the second half.
However, TFC made adjustments and came out more aggressive in the final 45 minutes. A 52nd minute goal made things a bit nervy as the Reds put pressure on the home side, looking for the equalizer for the remainder of play. While Toronto came close a few times to scoring again, the Crew was able to hold on to get another important early-season win.
This was good to see for Black & Gold fans. So far this year, Columbus hasn’t been in a position to grind out an MLS result, defeating D.C. United 3-1 in early May and getting two late goals to win on the road last weekend against New York City FC. Throughout the course of the year, the Crew will need to be able to win games in different ways and, while a convincing second half would have been nice, showing that this Black & Gold side can get a result when needing to protect a tight lead will be important.