The story coming into Saturday’s match between the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC was centered around the weather. A match that began in the mid 20s, with a windchill in the teens, featured a cold Toronto team, coming in off a 4-1 loss to Red Bull New York and a hot offensive start for the Crew, scoring seven in two matches. Columbus showed their own comeback potential, scoring two unanswered goals to win 2-1.
Before the start of the season, head coach Caleb Porter told supporters that the Crew would be a gritty team, winning close games. After two weeks of flying high on goalscoring, Saturday’s first half brought expectations back down to earth.
Starting the match, Toronto came out on the front foot. The visitors were on the offensive, with the Crew struggling to maintain possession. After two matches where goalkeeper Eloy Room registered one save overall, Room made two saves in the first six minutes against Toronto, both headed efforts by midfielder Noble Okello.
Columbus looked prepared on defense for the shots, making the shots on goal nothing too difficult for Room. The Black & Gold had men marked, but Toronto getting those chances in the run of play was different than anything Columbus has seen so far this season.
Offensively, the 10th minute gave the home team their first chance of the match. The polarizing midfielder, turned center back due to a red card suspension for Carlos Salcedo, Michael Bradley gave Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayán a hockey check to the ground.
Just a yard outside of the penalty box, Zelarayan didn’t repeat his seven free kick goals so far in a Crew uniform. His shot went wide left of the post, keeping the match level.
Toronto broke the deadlock in the 14th minute. Fullback Pedro Santos attempted to stop a ball coming his way with a lifted backheel. The momentum of the ball pushed it out of play for a Toronto corner. On the initial corner kick into the box, the Black & gold cleared the chance, but not far enough.
Midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo moved down the left side of the 18-yard-box, sending in a cross to a wide open Jesús Jiménez. Columbus had just one man in the area, center back Milos Degenek, and a lot of other gold-clad players standing and watching.
From there, Columbus moved to catchup mode. In the 20th minute, it looked like the Crew might have had a chance to even things up. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. received a pass inside the corner of the penalty area, but was met by fullback Jayden Nelson. Etienne went to ground, with a shout for a penalty, but nothing came from it.
Halfway through the first 45 minutes, Columbus did start to put chances on goal. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, their chances didn’t challenge goalkeeper Alex Bono or the defense.
Winger Yaw Yeboah had a chance in the 29th. Santos sent in a booming cross from the left sideline to Yeboah running into the center of the penalty area. For how great the pass to Yeboah was, the Toronto tackle on the other end of the pass was even better. Yeboah never got a shot off.
Their best opportunity of the half was in the 41st minute. Zelarayán dribbled past Bradley to send in a cross to Etienne Jr. The left winger leapt for the headed chance but Bono stopped it point blank.
In the second half, Columbus came to life, offensively and defensively. In the 55th, Jonathan Mensah knocked on the door, sending in a headed attempt that Bono saved. It was an even more impressive save than in the first half, keeping Toronto up one, but that would change.
The Crew went level in the 56th minute. After fullback Steven Moreira sent a pass into Etienne in the penalty area, the pass was deflected. Charging the ball was Zelarayán who sent in a laser shot low to the ground, past the right side of the keeper. It didn’t end there.
Mensah got his head on another ball in the box, but this time he opted to pass to Etienne. Wide open in front of goal, Etienne smoothly put a bouncing ball past Bono for the Crew’s second goal, putting the Black & Gold in the lead.
Both Zelarayán and Etienne had a goal and assist, showing a dynamic partnership that Columbus supporters were used to seeing in the first two matches of the season. Even though it was a difficult first half for the chilly home supporters, the Black & Gold returned to form and added three points to the MLS standings.
Black & Golden Boot
It’s only the third week of the season, but midfielder Zelarayán is in midseason form. In three matches this season, the Crew’s Argentinian No. 10 has four goals, and leads the league in the category, with a whole slate of weekend matches to come.
It’ll take another 31 weeks before we know who wins the award for best goal scorer in the league, but in Columbus, there’s no question. From set pieces, in the box or this one outside of the box, Zelarayán is dangerous no matter where he’s at on the field. As Zelarayán goes, as do the Crew.
Set Piece Woes
For the positives of a win, and three points are always great to add to the standings, one issue is still set piece defending. Columbus went down on another set piece, this time lacking any movement or strength when Toronto went up early in the first half.
Columbus had 76 minutes where it was no longer an issue, stopping remaining set pieces, including four other corner kicks.
From here, the Crew travel east, to Harrison, NJ. On the schedule are Red Bull New York. The Red Bulls have six points from their first two matches, and are the best team the Crew will face in this early part of the season.