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Crew come back from two-goal deficit to beat the Fire on the road

Hernández premieres for Columbus and scores the match-winning goal in a blazing second half for the Black & Gold

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Chicago Fire Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of talk about Columbus Crew’s new striker Cucho Hernández’s impact with the Black & Gold, the night finally arrived when the Colombian forward was eligible to play. Entering the match, head coach Caleb Porter let it be known that Hernández’s minutes would be brief as he’s still building fitness. Before he could debut though, Columbus had 62 minutes to face the Chicago Fire before the Hernández era began. It started with fireworks, with Columbus coming back from down two goals in the first half to a 3-2 victory.

Before a ball was even kicked though, Columbus had to make adjustments. Center back Miloš Degenek, who’s begun to find his place on the Crew backline, sustained a training injury and missed the match. In his place was MLS veteran Jalil Anibaba, playing against his first professional team.

Entering the match, Chicago versus Columbus didn’t have a barn-burning high goal count expected and it felt that way early on. Porter kept a 3-5-2 formation, with midfielder Lucas Zelarayán and forward Jacen Russell-Rowe up top. Neither had many chances in the first half, with the Black & Gold’s only opportunities coming from set pieces from Chicago fouls.

The Fire played aggressively, and Columbus earned three free kicks in dangerous areas. In the first seven minutes, The Crew earned two that didn’t challenge. Then, it was the Black & Gold who went into the books first. On a clearance, fullback Steven Moreira fouled at midfield to avoid a breakaway and received a yellow.

Columbus looked uninspired offensively, not making any moves in the run of play. Instead, it was the Fire, who entered the match at the bottom of the league with 16 goals in 18 matches, who went up and went up big.

Their first of two first half goals came in the 29th minute. On a corner, former Crew assistant coach, and now Chicago head coach, Ezra Hendrickson drew up an impressive set piece. Off a short corner, winger Chris Mueller sent in a laser cross to Fire center back Rafael Czichos who had a clean header on the ball.

In the 41st minute, winger Jhon Durán created the second. The 18 year old sent a cross into the box that went through three players and at the feet of Mueller. With Anibaba and fullback Pedro Santos not in an area to stop the shot, Mueller had a clear chance on goal to put the home side up 2-0 entering halftime.

Porter made multiple changes at halftime in personnel and tactics. Anibaba and midfielder Sean Zawadzki left for wingers Luis Díaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. Also, Porter switched from the 3-5-2 they’ve used so effectively of late to Porter’s tried and true 4-2-3-1.

With the change, midfielder Darlington Nagbe received more possession and allowed better linkup between the defense and offense. Before that, Nagbe didn’t see the ball much at all, which was a problem Chicago created by blocking the sidelines for the Crew attack.

After a first half of chasing the ball, the Crew won back possession and cut the lead in half, but not before Hernández played his first minute as a member of the Black & Gold. In the 62nd minute, Hernández arrived. But it wasn’t the new striker who added a goal. Instead, it was Zelarayán and Etienne.

On the offensive attack, at midfield, midfielder Aidan Morris passed forward to Zelaryán who had a quick flick forward to Etienne down the left side. It looked like a close call for a potential offside, but no flag or VAR review negated what came next. Etienne charged at goal and shot past goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina to put Columbus back in the game at 2-1.

Porter’s halftime adjustments were huge, and they brought the Fire back down to Earth. The match-tying goal came in the 75th minute. Zelarayán received a pass at the top of the penalty area, but instead passed to his right, to Díaz. The speedy winger sent a pass to his left to Etienne for his second of the night.

Then, the moment Crew supporters were waiting for, the first Hernández goal. Díaz again sent a pass, but this time from the defensive half of the field to a charging Hernández. Running towards the goal, Hernández chipped the goalkeeper, took his shirt off to celebrate with all of his teammates, and also earned his first MLS yellow card for the celebration.

In the 90th minute, the Chicago frustration was evident when fullback Miguel Navarro received a red card for elbowing Díaz, who had challenged the defender all second half, in the face. It initially began as a second yellow but after a VAR check turned to straight red.

Cucho’s Premiere

Hernández went from the Premier League to an MLS premier and showed his skill. While he was brought in as a striker, Hernández played possession, ran back on defense and had impressive passing to put the Crew in good positions.

Oh yeah, also his first MLS goal. Hernández had a break and lobbed away his first Black & Gold goal turning what felt like an awful match for the Crew’s momentum to their third home win of the season.

Winger Production

The talk about Crew wingers leading into 2022 was not great. Saturday, Columbus’ second half addition of Etienne and Díaz showed a pair of mature attacking players. Etienne scored twice, on pinpoint shooting. It’s Etienne’s first brace of his professional career.

Another point that won’t get as much attention is Díaz’s assists. In years past, supporters are used to Díaz leveraging his speed and taking a final shot that was off target. With Columbus down one, Díaz’s decision to pass in a shot where he’d normally shoot paid dividends.

Then, for Hernández’s introduction to MLS, it was Díaz again but with a long distance pass across the field.

What’s Next

Saturday’s win is the first of three matches in eight days, after only one week off from a packed three-match week. While MLS celebrated Rivalry Week this weekend, Columbus played two more this week after facing Chicago.

On Wednesday, Columbus travels to Audi Field to face D.C. United. Then, four days later, the newest of the three rivalries, but the largest, takes place at Lower.com Field when FC Cincinnati takes the short trip