The Columbus Crew's offensive woes ended on Saturday night as the Black & Gold hosted D.C. United. Columbus ended a four-game scoreless streak in Major League Soccer and, more importantly, snapped a five-game winless streak with a 3-0 victory.
Much of the Crew’s offensive struggles recently came due to star Lucas Zelarayan dealing with the right knee injury he sustained against the New York Red Bulls in late March. Zelarayan did not start this game but this time, the Black & Gold found that offensive form that has been missing since.
Columbus came out firing, with winger Derrick Etienne Jr. sending in a cross to forward Miguel Berry that nearly fell to his feet. Just moments later, right back Steven Moreira's cross fell perfectly to Etienne’s feet but he slotted it wide, a common theme for the Crew this season.
United hit Columbus came back the other way on the counter and just barely missed wide left. Five minutes into the match and three near goals showed the tempo at which both teams wanted to play. D.C. also wanted to play physical, committing three fouls in the first 10 minutes of the match, and seven in the first 20.
An injury to Moreira in the 11th minute caused him to come off despite attempting to play on. He was replaced in the 17th minute by Marlon Hariston.
The 20th minute saw the Black & Gold get saved by the post, as the team’s former striker, Ola Kamara, got past Jonathan Mensah for a shot that goalkeeper Eloy Room was not close to. Fortunately for the home side, the woodwork was there to keep the game scoreless.
United’s Tony Alfaro’s foul right outside of the penalty box on winger James Igbekeme lead to a Pedro Santos free kick in the 28th minute. Taking the set piece in place of Zelarayan, the left back fired the ball directly in the bottom right corner of the net for the Crew’s first goal of the game and their first MLS goal since that game against New York.
United finally picked up a yellow card in the 36th minute after committing the team’s 10th foul in the first half.
The Black & Gold continued the celebrations in the 43rd minute. A gorgeous ball out of the back from defender Josh Williams went to Etienne, who made up for the missed shot from earlier by sliding right past D.C.’s Brendan Hines-Ike and finding the net. For those wondering, Ettiene did hit the griddy.
Columbus ended the half with two goals for the season time all season, the first since the season-opening game, giving the group a confidence not seen by the Crew since early in the year.
The Black & Gold started the second half still in control, keeping the ball around the United box, but not necessarily playing desperate for a goal, letting the game come to them. This was a luxury Columbus hadn’t felt in quite some time.
D.C. began to find holes in the home team’s defense in the 63rd minute with a tremendous chance inside the 18-yard box. But wing back Julian Gressel skied the ball, keeping the game comfortably in the Crew’s favor. However, just two minutes later, another United chance was just short as midfielder Edison Flores missed his chance to get D.C. back into the game.
Berry came out of the match in the 71st minute for Zelarayan, resulting in an eruption from the 19,402 at Lower.com Field that rivaled both goals. The substitution helped jolt that Black & Gold attack back up as midfielder Darlington Nagbe took a shot on the volley after a ball was cleared from the penalty box way up in the air, resulting in one of the best goals all season for Columbus and giving the Crew a 3-0 advantage in the 74th minute.
While the offense had an important bounce-back performance, the defense once again did a solid job. D.C. attacked the counter from the Nagbe goal and looked to be in a great position to score, but Santos made a last-second stop, maintaining one of his best performances of the season.
The 85th minute gave the Black & Gold another glorious opportunity as Arthur delivered a through ball to Nagbe to give him his second, but his shot fell just wide left. Columbus didn’t have to worry much about the miss, but in a tighter game, those need to go in.
As the final moments winded down, the Crew was able to sit comfortably on the ball, allowing the fans in attendance to soak up one of the best performances of the season.
Hello Aidan Morris
The scoresheet won’t show it but arguably the man of the match was 20-year-old Aidan Morris. The central midfielder was everywhere in the game, generating key and accurate passes, winning his duels and whipping in long balls.
It’s taken two months for the Crew to find a way to get the young Morris on the field, but the injury to Lucas Zelarayan and Caleb Porter’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation has allowed the Homegrown product to have an important role in the last two matches and it’s helped the Black & Gold earn two important results.
Goals from everywhere
This was a true team performance from the Crew, as goals came from the attack, midfield and defense. Too many times this season, Columbus has been desperate looking for someone to take the game over, but the team played as a whole and as a result, the goals came in bunches.
The Black & Gold are back on the road next week in Massachuttes to take on the New England Revolution on Saturday. That game from Gillette Stadium is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET.