Coming after a vital, if uninspiring, draw at Real Salt Lake on Saturday, the Columbus Crew sought to get points on the road four days later against their Trillium Cup rivals Toronto FC. Some stellar performances from Crew 2 stars and a flurry of missed opportunities from Toronto helped lead the Crew to a 2-1 victory at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Here’s how we graded the individual performances of the Crew player.
Eloy Room (8.0) – Room was once again excellent for the Black & Gold, making multiple point-blank saves, including one in the 20th minute and again in the 29th minute. He had a smart, heads-up play when he came out to clear away a dangerous long ball in the 41st minute and was excellent throughout the second half. While not a shutout, Room’s efforts were crucial in securing the win for Columbus.
Pedro Santos (7.5) – The Crew played Santos in more of a left wing back role throughout the first half and there were a few nervy moments in the early going as he got comfortable with the changed shape. However, Santos settled quickly into the role and used the freedom of being off the backline to push farther forward into the attack. Santos’ defensive skill was felt most directly as he made the defensive interception and pass forward to Zelarayán which led directly to Nagbe’s goal.
Jonathan Mensah (6.5) – Mensah continued to play well as he works his way back from injury. The center back had another strong game in Toronto, although he probably could have done more to stop the lone TFC goal after allowing Jesus Jimenez too much space within the penalty box. However, Mensah redeemed his mistake several times over and was key in gathering and regrouping a defense that sustained near-continuous pressure throughout the second half.
Josh Williams (7.0) – Williams looked shaky early on in the center of the three-man backline but improved throughout the game. His six clearances led the team and were vital in thwarting several Toronto attacks. Williams played well in the second half and helped keep the home side from equalizing late in the game.
Miloš Degenek (6.5) – Degenek had something of a mixed bag performance. He was beat at times as the left-sided center back but was critical for the team in threatening Toronto, especially early in the second half. His play on the counter attack led to multiple opportunities for the Crew and should have been rewarded by a goal.
Steven Moreira (7.5) – Moreira had a good defensive game but was equally as impactful for his work offensively on the right side. He was gifted a golden opportunity and should have done more with it after a long long ball into the 18-yard box, but his work and movement into the attacking third continually tested the Reds throughout the night.
Sean Zawadzki (8.0) – Banger. That’s the only way to describe Zawadzki’s MLS goal. However, what was truly impressive was the way the No. 6 was able to control the midfield, win and keep possession and work with the defense until he was substituted in the 67th minute. While the Black & Gold’s midfield is currently flush with talent, Zawadzki has shown that he has the skills to be successful at the MLS level in his first two games.
Darlington Nagbe (8.0) – With Zawadzki holding, Nagbe was able to push forward more in this game and incorporate himself into Columbus’ attack. He was ultimately rewarded with a goal for his efforts. Furthermore, his ability to pass out of pressure was on display multiple times in the second half to get the Crew out of TFC’s intense pressure.
Aiden Morris (7.0) – Morris’s intensity is the strongest part of his game, and that was on full display against the Reds. He led the team with five tackles on the night and was often the catalyst for counter attacks throughout the second half playing alongside Nagbe.
Lucas Zelarayán (7.5) – The Armenian international returned from injury and his movement and ability on the ball were reminders of exactly how impactful of a player he is. While he only ended up playing 60 minutes, the playmaker’s impact was felt by everyone on the field. The amount of attention that he demands enables other players around him to break free and capitalize on the defensive gaps.
Jacen Russell-Rowe (8.0) – Two assists in one’s first MLS start after signing a first team contract earlier in the day? Not a bad Wednesday for Russell-Rowe. In his 66 minutes, the 19-year-old striker demonstrated smart positioning, excellent ball skills and a selflessness that helped others find the back of the net. While Cucho Hernandez will take over the No. 9 role, for now, Crew fans should delight in this young talent making his mark on the league.
Derrick Etienne Jr. (7.0) – Etienne played well coming back after his injury as a second half substitute for Zelerayan. The winger had two opportunities in the to score breakaway goals but was unable to put away either opportunity.
Will Sands (7.0) – Sands played competently and had an impact as a substitute for Santos in the 60th minute. He contributed a clearance and was able to lock down the left side of the field to help prevent Toronto from finding the equalizer.
Miguel Berry (6.5) – Berry was unable to find a shot, on goal or otherwise, in his time off the bench. While this is consistent with his current run of form, this particular game can be attributed more to the defensive mindset of the team trying to hold on to three points on the road than poor play. While he did end up missing a key opportunity in the six-yard box in the 88th minute, his interplay led to several counter attack opportunities for Columbus.
James Igbekeme (6.5) – Igbekeme was a 67th minute substitute for Zawadzki and did a good job defensively, mostly staying back to reinforce the defensive line. He contributed a tackle, interception and clearance for the Crew in his 25 minutes and showed his utility off the bench and the depth the Black & Gold have in the midfield.
Luis Diaz (7.0) – Diaz only had 10 minutes to make an impression after coming on late for Nagbe. He did his best to counter within the defensive shape and did a good job keeping the ball away from TFC and in the attacking half to kill as much clock as possible.
Caleb Porter (7.5) – Is Porter now a road coach? This win makes for two victories and a draw in Columbus’ last three road matches. Don’t look now, but the Crew is one point below the playoff line, getting healthy, with a favorable schedule coming up and reinforcements on the way. The pessimistic takeaway from this game is that the Black & Gold were fortunate with the number of missed opportunities from Toronto throughout the game. But that goes with the fluky nature of soccer, and it remains true that Porter has made some smart line-up decisions dealing with an injured squad. His decisions on starting Crew 2 talent have paid off and the play of Columbus’ young talent has made him look like a developmental genius.