Following months of talk about preseason moves, tailgates and logos, this conversation all fell to the side as the Columbus Crew returned to the pitch for the start of the 2022 MLS regular season. The Black & Gold returned to Lower.com field and came away with a 4-0 win against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Crew came out quickly and took advantage of a Whitecaps team that was either still shaking off the preseason rust or was ill-prepared for the Columbus attack. The gold-clad home side had five shots on goal in the first half, compare to none for Vancouver. When the Whitecaps did go on the attack, it ended with either an errant pass or a ready and able Black & Gold defense.
Coming into the match, supporters knew that head coach Caleb Porter saw a competition at the striker position. Getting the first start of the season was Miguel Berry. After a 2021 that saw the surprise star Berry score eight goals, he waited until the eighth minute of the match to score his first of 2022.
Midfielder Lucas Zelarayán sent in a pass to a waiting Berry. After bringing the pass down with his chest, Berry spun on the Vancouver defense and took a shot. Meeting the end of the shot was the head Vancouver center back Ranko Veselinovic. That slight touch to try to deflect the shot away rolled past diving goalkeeper Thomas Hasal for the first of two first half goals.
Defensively, goalkeeper Eloy Room and the Crew backline didn’t have much of a challenge. New signing Miloš Degenek fit right into the defense, deflecting crosses into the penalty box and a potential goal-saving tackle in the 18-yard-box. Any concerns on how the new addition would play next to captain Jonathan Mensah look foolish in hindsight.
In the 25th minute, the Crew added a second goal. This time, it was new winger Yaw Yeboah. Just inside Columbus’ half of the field, Yeboah sent in a cross to a charging Derrick Etienne Jr. The seventh year MLS veteran’s first touch was perfect, especially considering the pace and distance of the cross. After bringing it down, Etienne extended the lead to two, and had his first goal celebration griddy of the 2022 season.
After Columbus’ second, it was the Whitecaps who started to see more possession, connect on more passes and try to claw back from their deficit. The Black & Gold defense withstood the mini stretches where Vancouver asked questions offensively. Room didn’t have to put a glove on the ball in the first half and Columbus went into the locker room up 2-0.
The second half saw a friendly face come in for the struggling Whitecaps. Former Crew Academy midfielder, and part of the 2020 MLS Cup champions team, Sebasitan Berhalter subbed in at halftime to help push Vancouver back into the game. Unfortunately for the visiting side, it became more difficult to come back in the 53rd minute.
The Whitecaps’ Jake Nerwinski received his second yellow card caution, meaning he was sent off. With the Vancouver at 10 men, Columbus looked to tighten the screw and increase their two-goal lead.
The Black & Gold didn’t only increase the lead, but doubled it. The first goal came from substitute winger Luis Diaz in the 84th minute. Etienne found space down the left side of the field and connected with another substitute in forward Gyasi Zardes. Zardes went for the shot, but the defense interrupted his pass, which turned into a pass to an open Diaz who buried it into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Columbus didn’t wait too much longer for the fourth goal. In the 87th minute, it was Zelarayán’s turn. The Argentinian received a pass right inside the penalty area, dribbled through three defenders and buried it as he fell to the pitch.
After a preseason where Porter tried to tame expectations, calling this team one that would have close victories, the Crew put four past a 2021 MLS Cup playoff team in the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Crew’s starting 11 featured two new players in Yeboah and Degenek. Although it’s only the first match of the season, both looked like they were worth the addition. The chemistry between Yeboah and Steven Moreira down the right sideline was strong, even though they’ve had just two weeks to play alongside each other.
Defensively, Degenek showed what a young, experienced center back can do in form. Vancouver was without starting forward Brian White, who scored 12 and added five assists last year. His absence was evident, but even more so because of the sound defensive work by Mensah and Degenek. There’s still 33 matches this season, but if these two signings improve with more time in the club, that’s a dangerous prospect for the rest of MLS.
Black & Gold Returns
A couple of names that were on the 2020 MLS Cup-winning team, but still hadn't earned a minute of match time at Lower.com Field are midfielders Artur and Aidan Morris. Artur didn’t play past the end of May in 2021 with a hip injury. Morris tore an ACL before the start of the 2022.
Artur started the match and fed off the crowd. The Brazilian was everywhere in his defending, especially intercepting passes. On the offensive end, he even threw shots on goal, coming close on two occasions. The first going just over the corner of the net and second hitting off the crossbar.
Morris came in for Artur and continued the same play. There was no hesitation for either midfielder in their play, breaking down a day that was difficult for the Whitecaps.
After a four-goal win, the Crew head out west to face the San Jose Earthquakes. It’s the first away trip of the season, for the Black & Gold, providing a different challenge in Week 2.