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What We Learned: Crew vs. CF Montreal

Our takeaways from an instrumental Crew win over CF Montreal at Lower.com Field.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Columbus Crew put together a very good performance Saturday night at Lower.com Field to claim a 2-1 win against CF Montreal. The victory was the Black & Gold’s third straight at home and its third consecutive result to keep MLS Cup playoff hopes alive. With seven games to go, the Crew will need to continue this upward momentum if the team is to be playing postseason soccer.

Saturday’s win had plenty to be excited about. The crowd was big, the goals were beautiful and the defense held strong for nearly the full 90 minutes. Here are our takeaways from the Crew’s win over Montreal.

Gyasi Zardes can score “bangers”

After the victory, Zardes and Josh Williams spoke to the media. When Zardes was asked about scoring a 22-yard left foot screamer, Williams interjected to say “Banger!” The Crew’s top striker has goals like that in his locker with that left-footed banger from outside the penalty box easily being the top from open play for Columbus this season.

Zardes has had an up-and-down 2021 season with a fast start to proceedings in the spring with three goals at the historic Crew Stadium. He didn’t score again until the first game at Lower.com Field, which was his final Black & Gold appearance before the Gold Cup. After two goals in the United States Men’s National Team’s title run in the Gold Cup, Zardes returned to Columbus and failed to score in six consecutive appearances.

Since that point, Zardes has three goals in his last two games with the best of the bunch being the second strike in the 62nd minute against Montreal. Zardes has that long shooting ability and Crew fans will want to see more of that in the final regular season games.

The core defense together earns points

The Crew was very close to earning its first clean sheet since July 24 with Montreal’s lone goal coming in stoppage time of the second half. Despite conceding, the Black & Gold defense put together one of its best performances all season. It makes considering Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and Milton Valenzuela all started together on the back four.

Columbus’ core defensive line hasn’t been able to play together for much of 2021. That backline started together for all four of the Crew’s 2020 playoff matches and earned three clean sheets on the road to MLS Cup title. Injuries this season has limited these four to start together only twice. The first time was the season opener, which ended 0-0 against Philly.

In two appearances together, this defensive four has earned the Crew four points and conceded one garbage-time goal. They have chemistry together and are great communicators with each other, the goalkeeper and the midfield. It’s clear this is the best backline for Columbus.

Thee Crew has confidence again

It’s tough to have confidence when losses come at a consistent rate. The Black & Gold were prone to defensive errors and missing open chances and crosses on a consistent basis this seasono. Even after the amazing Hell is Real Derby win, the Crew followed up with two losses in Florida that included defensive lapses in both games.

Against Montreal, fans saw confidence from every player on the pitch. The defense was made good decisions passing as well as pursuing aggressive interceptions both in the back and the midfield. It was a Valenzuela interception that began the quick transition that led to the Crew’s opening goal. The same was true for the attack with a willingness to take shots and Zardes’ thunderbolt sending Lower.com Field into a frenzy.

The Black & Gold has a swagger that’s been hidden for months. That swagger and confidence are back In full force at the perfect time with a chance at a trophy on Wednesday in the Campeones Cup and seven games to roar up the standings to the MLS Cup playoffs.