The Columbus Crew desperately needed three points to keep pace in the playoff chase and a ferocious defensive effort and two Gyasi Zardes goals delivered them as the Black & Gold defeated CF Montreal 2-1.
The Crew had a couple early chances as Darlington Nagbe took the ball on the dribble into the final third. After a nice interplay with Pedro Santos, Nagbe found the Portuguese winger on the right sideline. Santos overhit his cross, ending the 11th minute Columbus chance.
Santos created more early danger with a recovery in the attacking third and slipping a couple of defenders. His bending cross forced a punch from James Pantemis in the 13th minute. Another long-distance Santos shot forces another Pantemis save just a moment later.
Montreal finds half chances on the counter, but they can only create a Djordje Mihailovic save from distance that Evan Bush saves easily.
Columbus continues to control the game, but CF Montreal’s mid-block defense stymies the Crew attack into patient possession at midfield or hopeful balls forward. The Black & Gold attack struggles to create any danger or shots.
It’s no surprise that The Columbus breakthrough came on a midfield turnover. Milton Valenzuela dispossessed Joaquín Torres and Liam Fraser recovered, playing a one-touch pass to Derrick Etienne Jr. on the left side. The winger burst into the open space and placed a perfect cross onto the right foot of Zardes to give the Crew the 1-0 lead in the 44th minute. Neither side was able to carry the ball into the attacking third before the half ended.
Montreal cones out of halftime looking to level and again finds a bit of space in transition. Samuel Piette takes the first Montreal shot in 27 minutes, but his 52nd minute shot from the top of the box is just high and outside. Torres gets a chance a minute later but puts it well over.
Once again, the Crew created danger in transition. Nagbe recovers a Harrison Afful tackle and finds Zardes checking into the right channel. The striker dribbles centrally and unleashes a left-footed shot from 24 yards that finds the top corner to make it 2-0 in the 62nd minute.
CF Montreal pushed forward in an attempt to salvage something from the game but struggled to get into dangerous areas. The Crew defense kept the visitors at bay. The only chance came from a moment of brilliance from Matko Miljevic who surged into the left channel and unleashed a powerful shot that forced a Bush parry save in the 74th minute.
Columbus continued on the front foot as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Lucas Zelarayan tested Pantemis from distance with a 90th-minute shot, forcing a diving save. Luis Diaz followed the shot and collected the loose ball, but wasn’t able to create a shot from the tight angle.
Into stoppage time, the Impact finally pushed into the Crew box. Substitute Lassi Lappalainen got a clear close-range shot off but rang the left post. Romell Quioto jumped on the loose ball and poked it over the line to give Montreal a consolation goal.
The Crew striker hasn’t had the season Crew fans expected. He’s missed time with a hamstring strain and National Team duty, where he scored twice in the Gold Cup. With the team’s broader offensive struggles, the team’s leading scorer in the last three seasons came into the game with five goals in 17 games. He finishes the game as the team’s co-leader with Zelarayan with seven, including his 50th and 51st in 100 games with the Black & Gold.
Zardes’ first goal on the evening looked much like the preceding 49. Once the Crew took possession, he surged from the center circle into the penalty area, streaming past the Montreal defense to finish from close range. Zardes has always recognized a run and worked hard to be in the right spots.
It’s the second that is special. The Montreal defense once again struggled to set after a turnover and was backing off the dribble to the top of the box. Zardes saw his window and scored one of the best goals of the season. The left-footed shot was unsavable as he hit it with power and precision into the top corner. Clearly a Goal of the Year contender. The Crew forward is getting hot with three goals in two games just when Columbus needs him for the playoff push.
The best attack (is a good defense)
Columbus has struggled this season creating chances during the run of play. Zelarayan has created free-kick magic six times this season, but they haven’t consistently broken down defenses in 2021. Tonight the Black & Gold scored twice during open play, but took a shortcut to get there, they leveraged a ferocious defense to shorten the field.
The first Crew goal came after a long, and often aimless stretch, where Columbus had the ball but bogged down in the mid-third. The well-drilled Montreal defense stayed compact and didn’t allow much space. When Valenzuela created the turnover, Fraser played a quick first touch ball, and the Montreal defense couldn’t set. Zardes had plenty of space to run into.
The second goal again came off a turnover and quick recovery. Opportunistically, Nagbe took a touch and found Zardes in plenty of space. Without the set defensive structure, Montreal backed off and Zardes tried his luck and had his brace.
Win: The vital three points from the Crew’s 9th win of the season. At 34 points, Columbus still sits below the red line and three points away from the seventh spot, currently held by Montreal. Columbus has a midweek match, The Campeones Cup, against Cruz Azul on Wednesday at 7:30 pm. The non-league match pits the defending MLS Cup champs against the Campeón de Campeones, the winner of the game between the Apertura and Clausura season champions. The Crew then head to Philadelphia to face the Union on Sunday, October 3rd at 4pm to resume league play.