Wednesday, the Columbus Crew descended onto Lower.com Field for a night featuring beautiful weather, the backdrop for the Black & Gold’s attempt at finding more consistent form with the season nearing its end. Something, or better yet someone, who didn’t feature though was midfielder Lucas Zelarayán. Scratched late due to a tight hamstring, Columbus had to adjust quickly, beating Inter Miami 1-0.
The Crew weren’t the only side missing key players. For Inter Miami, they were without midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, who received a red card against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 27. Elsewhere on Miami, forward Gonzalo Higuain and fullback Deandre Yedlin were each questionable entering Wednesday, but started nonetheless.
For Columbus, midfielder Aidan Morris stepped into the starting position, playing alongside Darlington Nagbe and Artur, who served a one-match yellow card accumulation suspension on Saturday in the Crew’s 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati.
Columbus needed to adjust and even with Zelarayán out, the home side looked better than they have to start their last two matches against Atlanta United and FC Cincinnati. While both previous games for Columbus featured troubles getting out of their own defensive half of the field, the Crew were able to stretch the field Wednesday night.
That didn’t mean the Crew didn’t need defense. To start the match, Inter Miami found counterattacking options but there to stop them was center back Miloš Degenek. The defender who’s had an up and down year adjusting to the league and fightining injuries played his most complete half in his first MLS season.
In the eighth minute, Miami’s Higuain received a pass with only a few steps to go before entering Columbus’ defensive penalty area. Degenek made a well-timed run to clear the ball away. It the first of two such stops on Higuain by Degenek in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Offensively, the Crew flowed through forward Cucho Hernández. Playing in his 12th match of his Columbus career, Hernández created the match’s only shot on goal in the first half and put the home team in positions to create.
The flashiest of Hernández’s three attempts was in first half stoppage time. The Colombian attempted a bicycle kick that made the stadium let out a collective “ooooo” but the shot hit the ground and out for a Crew corner kick.
Entering halftime, it was a match that felt like it was close to having something offensively but was stuck in the midfield and on the backlines of each side.
Coming out in the second half, the Crew brought intensity. After an initial chance by Miami, Columbus became the aggressors on offense, creating multiple corner opportunities and causing the visitors some issues on defense.
Helping the Crew was midfield pressure. Columbus created bad passes for Miami and interceptions that began to give winger Luis Díaz and Hernández space to move. It paid off in the 61st minute.
After skying a chance on net a few minutes earlier, that began with Hernández making two blocks on Yedlin defensively as Miami found space to exploit, Díaz made up for the miss.
Playing out of their defensive half of the field center back Jonathan Mensah sent a pass forward to Artur, who made a quick toe poke pass forward to Saturday’s last-minute goal-scorer Steven Moreira. The Frenchman found Díaz running down the sideline, with space to move and shoot. Díaz found the back of the net for the second time this season, and Columbus went up 1-0.
The Crew didn’t take the foot off the pedal. Although they didn’t score again, Miami never looked like they were going to challenge Columbus, with the Crew holding on 1-0.
Remembering Jamey Rootes
Prior to Wednesday’s kickoff, the Crew honored a piece of Columbus soccer’s rich history by honoring former General Manager Jamey Rootes. Joining the team at their inception, Rootes was integral in the creation of the first MLS franchise and the creation of Historic Crew Stadium.
Rootes passed away at the age of 56, after a battling mental health issues.
Complete Defensive Performance
Even with Pozuelo out due to suspension, Miami featured Higuain and a Miami offense that hadn’t been shut out since July 23. Degenek and Mensah each were a force on the backline, with Josh Williams and Jalil Anibaba coming on late to help put the match away.
For the first time at Lower.com Field in a while, the Crew were able to overcome mistakes and secure a clean sheet victory at home. Of the four, Degenek came up the biggest, making a key stop in second half stoppage before goalkeeper Eloy Room made a save right before full time.
Columbus is back at Lower.com Field on Saturday, welcoming the Chicago Fire in the first of two Black & Gold matches that evening. First, the Crew face the Fire, who Columbus beat after going down 2-0 on July 9.
Following the first team match is Crew 2, of the MLS NEXT Pro development league. The Capybaras face Chicago Fire II.