They couldn’t help but win.
As the Columbus Crew took on the visiting Toronto FC on Saturday, the windchill hovered around 10 degrees Fahrenheit and snow blustered inside the concourse at Lower.com Field. Had their team lost, the Crew faithful would have had nothing to show for their sojourn to the Arena District save for frostbite.
Fans can thaw out, however, as the Black & Gold earned a 2-1 win, led by the white-hot Columbus offense, now responsible for nine goals in three games. The last time out in Ohio for the Crew, fellow Canadians Vancouver Whitecaps were made to suffer four of those goals. This time, the path was not as straightforward but the end result was the same for the Reds from Ontario.
Toronto began the game well, disrupting the Crew’s rhythm with a change in formation and not allowing the hosts time on the ball. The growing anxiety in the stands was made manifest in the 14th minute as Jesus Jimenez nodded the ball home off a cross from fellow Spaniard and 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo. As the first half wound to a close, the sky darkened and the snow began to fall. Not what one would call a good omen.
Things brightened up in the second half, both literally and figuratively, and as the sun broke through, so did Columbus with goals from Lucas Zelarayan and Derrick Etienne Jr. completing the comeback. As soon as Zelarayan’s shot hit the back of the net, the Nordecke was in ecstasy. When the Argentine scores, the joy it evinces doesn’t just stem from the fact that the Crew scored a goal; the fans relish every addition to the body of proof that one of their team’s players is playing at an MVP clip over the first three games of the year.
The Black & Gold showed character to score twice to come from behind, and it could have been better. Etienne had a goal called back for offsides and substitutes Gyasi Zardes and Luis Diaz both had real chances that weren’t converted. Worries remain over the team’s defending on opposition set pieces but the good news is that that is a coachable issue.
Columbus’ opening trio of games has been impressive showings offensively and a smooth entrance into the 2022 season. Of the three teams played so far, only Vancouver was playoff caliber last season.
The next three teams on the docket, however, are the New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC and the Philadelphia Union, all teams that took trips to the postseason, and the Crew’s performances against stiffer opposition will tell us more about what to expect from the Black & Gold this year. If they can keep up the offensive production and tighten up on set piece defending, the club should be well-placed to meet the challenge.
Derrick “L’Overture” Etienne
The Haitian international put in a Man of the Match performance again on Saturday, adding a goal and an assist to bring his combined totall within one of his entire output in 2021. It’s been three games and clearly, the winger put in serious work in the offseason and it is gratifying as a fan to see a player who left everything on the table with meager desserts last year get the numbers he deserves. The winger positions was up for grabs in the preseason, and though it’s early days, Etienne has made a forceful argument that the spot on the left flank is his to lose.
God forgives, Crew fans don’t
Michael Bradley was once again greeted with a cavalcade of boos every time he touched the ball at Lower.com Field, an enmity that stems from a Save The Crew-era comment from the midfielder that does not bear repeating. Though it probably didn’t get under the veteran’s skin, he was angry enough at the officials after the final whistle that he had to be separated from them by his father, Toronto head coach Bob Bradley.
Miguel Berry headband watch
Miguel Berry once again donned a headband on Saturday. Through three headband-games the Crew is unbeaten. Has the headband become a good luck charm?