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Game Grades: Crew vs. Cruz Azul

How the Black & Gold players performed in bringing another trophy to Columbus.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Columbus Crew won a trophy on Wednesday night, defeating Cruz Azul of Liga MX 2-0 in the Campeones Cup. The Crew brought home more silverware behind a steadfast defense and opportunistic attacks.

It wasn’t art for Columbus; it was more like craft. The plan, a defensive counter-attacking formation with significant rotation, relied on everyone performing in their specific roles. The Black & Gold got them all over the field.

Let’s take a look at how the players performed.


Evan Bush (6) – It was slightly shaky game from the backup goalkeeper. Bush struggled with his decision making with balls coming into the penalty box and bobbled a couple of catches. Overall, he was solid on his shot stopping and stepped up when needed to keep the shutout intact.

Steven Moreira (6) – A solid debut in unusual circumstances for the Frenchman. Not only was it a one-off cup final, but it was the first time the Crew moved to a back three formationoo. Moreira was solid on defense but often was pushed too far back to press into the attack effectively. It was understandable given that Cruz Azul kept possession at a 70 percent clip.

Jonathan Mensah (7.5) – The center back was outstanding in dealing with the many direct attacks from the visitors. He won header after header and integrated into the three-man backline very well. Mensah’s goal was exceptionally well taken when he stayed forward in a dangerous pocket even as the ball circulated and took his shot well. The finish, heading with placement and power, made the shot that much harder to save. It’s a well earned reward.

Josh Williams (7) – Williams marshaled the backline as the central defender in the back three, especially working with Aboubacar Keita as they had a very steady performance. He stepped up into the dangerous spaces when needed and won his headers to deal with the dangerous direct Cruz Azul attack. A professional job from the veteran.

Aboubacar Keita (7) – After a summer of struggle, Keita looked very solid in his return to the lineup. He didn’t let the stage overwhelm him as he was calm in the face of repeated Cruz Azul attacks. He handled balls in the air and defended his zones well and also showed a cool head when the game started to get chippy in the first half, including stepping into a scrum to ensure that Williams didn’t pick up a card.

Pedro Santos (6.5) - Another all-around game from the Crew’s ever-present left back/winger. Like Moreira, he was often stuck playing too deep to provide attacking support at left wing back in the first half, but he acquitted himself well in his defensive duties during his 60 minutes at the position. He then had his moments as he moved to right wing, pushing forward as Columbus looked to score in transition.

Liam Fraser (7) - A savvy performance in midfield from the Canadian. With defensive duties first and foremost, Fraser shielded the backline well and provided the coverage for Nagbe to push forward at times. He also was calm on the ball as he picked out passes forward under pressure, getting the balance right as he avoided costly turnovers while trying to progress the ball.

Darlington Nagbe (8) – The most valuable performance on the field for the Crew came from Nagbe. Playing with a back three with the wingbacks, the Crew ceded possession all evening but needed a way to relieve pressure. Nagbe stepped up multiple times to carry the ball out of the defensive third and through midfield. All transitions flowed through his ability to dribble out of trouble and push into the attacking third. Cruz Azul could do nothing to stop his ability to break pressure.

Derrick Etienne Jr. (5.5) – The winger struggled on the evening as one of the focal points of the attack. The Black & Gold knew they needed to attack in transition as Cruz Azul controlled the ball. Etienne struggled with the speed of the game and often was too slow in his decision making, ending several transition attacks. It was a tough assignment, but he added little going forward when Columbus needed him.

Lucas Zelarayan (6.5) – The Crew’s playmaker was obviously up for the game. He seems to play best when the lights are brightest, but the game plan didn’t suit his skillset. He had occasional moments on the dribble, but was often left unsupported going forward. His set piece service made a difference on the night, but there were several half chances that Zelarayan probably could have done better on.

Miguel Berry (6.5) - The target forward in a defensive game plan is a thankless job. Berry wasn’t involved defensively, but he had his moments on the counter attack. He showed off some excellent movement and a bit of individual skill to keep several transition attacks going, but he tailed off towards the end of his 64-minute shift.


Harrison Afful (7) – It was another solid game in a good run of form from the Ghanaian. Afful played a smart defensive game during his 30-minute appearance, but also provided numbers in attack once the game opened up. There were no moments of brilliance, just steadiness as the Crew closed in on the trophy.

Milton Valenzuela (8) – It’s been a long, hard 2021 for the Argentine, but his last two games show strong glimmers of the game-changing impact player the team signed in 2018. In his 30 minute shift, Valenzuela demonstrated smart positional awareness, excellent one-on-one defensive skills and good attacking play. The ability to conjure a moment of brilliance was on display when he served in an excellent cross to set up the second goal. A healthy and in form Valenzuela changes what the Black & Gold are able to do.

Luis Diaz (6) – Diaz Provided energy and intensity defensively and his speed stretched the field in transition. But the winger still struggled with the final product.

Bradley Wright-Phillips (6) - Coming off the bench, Wright-Phillips struggled with the speed of the game. Solid defensively, but he provided very little in transition, often turning over the ball rather than keeping possession.

Marlon Hairston (6.5) - It was an all-action performance in his 12 minutes plus stoppage time cameo for Hairston. The midfielder provided significant range and defensive mettle. That was valuable to close out the game.

Head coach

Caleb Porter (7.5) – Again, the Crew coaching staff identified the challenges presented by an opponent and countered them. This time Columbus unveiled a back three with wing backs for defensive stability and a formation designed for transitions. The change worked very well. The defense was well drilled in their responsibilities and it played to the strengths of several players, including Fraser and especially Nagbe. This approach was the strongest chance at a result and it paid off.