The Columbus Crew finally got one in the win column in Major League Soccer play on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at historic Crew Stadium with a 3-1 victory against Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United. The Black & Gold come off of a brutal 3-0 loss to CF Monterrey on Wednesday to knock them out of the CONCACAF Champions League. The match featured the first goals scored and conceded by Columbus in league play this season.
The starting lineup was tweaked a little from what fans expected. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips got the start over Gyasi Zardes, who continues working through a shoulder injury suffered in leg one of the Champions League quarterfinals. Left back Milton Valenzuela was still unavailable for Columbus despite not being on the injury report. Head coach Caleb Porter said previously that he is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Shortly before kickoff, D.C. made a late lineup change, putting Adrien Perez in for Joseph Mora and was down to just four subs on the bench with 14 players out with injury.
Both teams came out battling for possession with winger Luis Diaz creating the first real chance for either team in the third minute coming down the right side but his cross was easily cleared by the United defense.
Lucas Zelarayan followed him up in the seventh minute with some nasty footwork and a well-placed cross that was just too high for Wright-Phillips.
Despite the early chances, D.C. was still the more dangerous team early statistically speaking with two shots in the first 10 minutes, though both were easily handled by goalkeeper Eloy Room. The Crew controlled the game, however, with a dominant 61 percent possession. The home team continued to create chances down the right side, but the crosses failed to connect.
In the 19th minute, Columbus finally put one in the back of the net for the first time all MLS season. Zelarayan got knocked down while taking a shot from outside the 18-yard box to draw a well-placed free kick. With sheer confidence, the Argentine curled the ball into the left side of the goal, perfectly out of United goalkeeper Chris Seitz’s reach.
Zelarayan was the first player to score for Columbus in 2020 as well, an exciting sign for things to come.
The Black & Gold kept things moving through the half, paced in the midfield by Darlington Nagbe. Quick passes combined with field switches helped stretch the D.C. defense and create chances, though shots were still few and far between.
Heading into the locker room with some cushion would have been nice, but the Black & Gold were totally in control of the first half.
Columbus remained in control early and maintained a level of energy conducive to scoring more goals, though none came early in the second half. A one-goal lead was worrisome for a team that so desperately needed three points before a week on the road.
Wright-Phillips and Zardes made the switch in the 57th minute, giving some new energy to the attack. United applied pressure, however, and needed to put one in the back of the net.
In the 63rd minute, the Crew finally got it done, a little untraditionally. Santos flew down the left side and ripped a hard shot with his left foot at a tight angle. The ball deflected off the goalkeeper, then back off of United center back Frederic Brillant and into the back of the net for an own goal that put the Black & Gold up 2-0.
Chances became few and far between again as the Crew settled into a defensive posture.
That came back to nearly haunt the home team as D.C. pulled one back in the 82nd minute from none other than former Crew striker Ola Kamara. Crew defenders called for the offside flag but none was given. It was the first league goal the Black & Gold had conceded this season.
Columbus answered in seconds, however, as they made it 3-1 in the 83rd minute off of yet another own goal by D.C. A similar scenario occurred as a cross was poorly handled and deflected by the United defense before falling in the back of the net to seal the win.
The attacking midfielder is good. Really good. The team that lost to Monterrey on Wednesday — when the Argentine did not play — was not the same team that beat D.C. on Saturday, and the difference was Zelarayan.
Obviously, he made a difference in scoring the goal. But Zelarayan’s control of the midfield goes beyond the score sheet. With players like Nagbe and Diaz around him, Zelarayan packs a big, difference-making punch.
Gaining Some Confidence
A two-goal win for the Black & Gold is big-time considering, up until this point, the team had not scored in league play. Granted, they hadn’t conceded either. Regardless, Columbus’ backline was tested while still coming away with three points, a welcome sight before a busy week on the road.
The Black & Gold hope to carry this momentum into yet another two-game week as they travel to Toronto FC on Wednesday for a midweek game at 7 p.m. ET. The Crew then stays on the road for a Sunday matchup against the New England Revolution at 6 p.m. ET.