Friday night, Historic Crew Stadium reopened up its gates. This time, the staple of American soccer hosted the first home match for Columbus Crew 2 of the MLS NEXT Pro development league. Supporters went home happy after Crew 2 beat Orlando City B 2-0.
From the first kick, the momentum was in the Black & Gold’s favor. Columbus came out with chances early, applying a press to Orlando that they couldn’t break. Five minutes into a match where Columbus looked strong, the game unexpectedly stopped when the referee’s assistant ran into the back locker room. There was no explanation at the time, but when the referee returned, the center moved to the fourth official spot and the match restarted.
Following the match, PRO, the refereeing organization that calls MLS and MLS NEXT Pro matches, released a statement.
“The referee felt that she wasn’t physically able to perform the duties of a center official. For the integrity of this match, the best course of action was to change roles and complete this assignment as the 4th official.”
Columbus picked up the momentum again. Key in the Black & Gold’s attack was switching the field of play. When the Crew won the ball, the team often sent it down the left sideline to speedy winger Coleman Gannon. The 19 year old that Crew 2 acquired from Atlanta United 2 sent in crosses that challenged the Orlando defense, but not enough to put Columbus ahead.
Head coach Laurent Courtois’ side bested OCSC for much of the first half, until the 30th minute. Orlando started focusing its attention on Gannon and the left side of the field. In the 35th minute, the Lions had their first of two strong first half chances.
Orlando City sent a cross into the penalty box that defender Abdi Mohamed headed straight into the air. On a rebound, Mohamed recovered from the initial header and cleared a shot off the line to keep the match scoreless.
Goalkeeper Patrick Schulte cleared the ball off the goal line too. Orlando began getting into strong positions on offense from counter attack. In the 38th minute, it was Moises Tablante challenging the first-round MLS SuperDraft pick. Just two minutes later, Orlando midfielder David Bocuzzo caused Schulte to leap backwards and punch the shot away.
In the final minutes of the first half, Columbus got back on the front foot and made some counter attacking runs of their own. The best came in the 43rd minute. Forward Jacen Russell-Rowe intercepted a poor back pass from the OCSC defense. Russell-Rowe hit the shot off the post. Seconds later he received a cross in the penalty box that would have needed a lot of luck to go into the net. Russell-Rowe threw a boot at the pass but it lifted over the crossbar.
In the third minute of first half stoppage, Russell-Rowe was vindicated. Columbus’ run started in the defensive midfield. Midfielder Sean Zawadzki was under pressure by three Orlando players and found an open Mo Farsi down the right sideline.
Charging down the field, Farsi sent in a cross that Russell-Rowe buried, putting Crew 2 up 1-0 going into halftime.
The second half saw the return to action for two Crew senior team members in Erik Hurtado and Isaiah Parente. Both came in as substitutes for a second half that started out looking like the first half.
Columbus continued to pressure Orlando City, with the visitors still relying on the counter attack to move into offensive positions. The Lions challenged the Crew defense and in the 50th minute, scared the home crowd a little bit for what happened after a shot.
OCSC took a shot on goal that didn’t challenge Schulte, but the Black & Gold goalkeeper went to the ground, needing training assistance. Schulte remained on the ground for a couple minutes before getting back up to his feet, continuing in the match.
Through the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Crew continued frustrating Orlando. In the 67th minute, the home team almost doubled the lead. Hurtado sent in a booming cross off a volley to the chest of forward Noah Fuson. The ball hit the chest of Fuson, as he turned his body to send the ball into the corner of the net, but it went just wide.
Hurtado’s addition to the match gave Columbus speed in the right winger role. As Orlando pushed numbers forward, it was Hurtado bringing the play into the penalty area for the Black & Gold. The 67th minute chance was his best, but not close to his only attack on goal.
In the 81st minute, Hurtado put the match away. This time instead of facilitating, he was shooting. Off a second Farsi assist, Huratdo shot across the front of goal, getting the ball under the torso of a diving goalkeeper Javier Otero. Putting the match on ice for Crew 2.
The first home crowd
Columbus supporters showed up well on Friday. In a crowd of a few hundred supporters, they serenaded the Black & Gold to classics like “We Love Ya,” “Yo So La Voy,” and a retooled version of “Hey Gyasi” called “Hey Zawadzki.”
It was a welcome site for Crew 2.
“I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting so many people. It was great,” said head coach Courtois following the 2-0 victory. Especially after three weeks of matches with little to no fans in the stands.
Following the final whistle, the group of 30 to 40 in the Nordecke sang “Wise Men” in front of the team. A moment that for some playing in their first professional home match ever may never forget.
“Home is always a nice feeling, having the fans cheering for you for 90 minutes,” said Farsi. “Today they [the supporters] helped us a lot, and they’re part of the win as well.”
Jacen Russell-Rowe’s emergence
Forward Russell-Rowe came to Columbus after time in the Toronto FC academy. After two seasons with few chances to break in at Toronto FC II and III, the 6-foot-1 forward scored his second goal in as many matches.
It’s not only goal scoring for the big forward. Russell-Rowe was in the midfield causing issues for Orlando. He intercepted passes, used his size advantage to outmuscle smaller Orlando midfielders and get possession back into the Black & Gold’s favor.
Columbus remains at home for a second week in a row. On Sunday, April 24, the Crew welcome Toronto FC II to Historic Crew Stadium.