The Columbus Crew got back into the win column on Wednesday, defeating Inter Miami CF 1-0 at Lower.com Field. With midfielder Lucas Zelarayan a late scratch with muscle tightness, questions surrounded the Black & Gold’s offensive strategy. It was the defense that responded big and Thursday they were rewarded. Center back Milos Degenek and fullback Steven Moreira excelled, each earning a spot on the MLS Team of the Week.
Miami featured Gonzalo Higuain and a side that hasn’t been shut out from the goal scoring since the end of July, so the Black & Gold had their hands full. Degenek was key in keeping the match level throughout the match.
In the first half, the Australian National Team member made multiple stops on Higuain who would otherwise have a clear chance on goal in the first 15 minutes. That performance continued throughout the night, with Degenek and the backline of the Crew clearing shots off the line and clearing crosses and set pieces out of their defensive penalty area.
What’s often been a concern for Columbus of set piece and cross defending was a strength. Miami had two corners and 15 crosses without a goal to show for it, with the Crew clearing out 16 balls as a team, with Degenek accounting for eight of them.
Moreira didn’t have as many close calls, attention-grabbing, defensive saves as Degenek, but still excelled. The Frenchman had six clearances of his own and offensively completed 43 of 51 passes. Of the 43 that connected, his pass in the 61st minute helped the Crew score the match-winning goal.
Starting from the back, Moreira received a toe poke pass from midfielder Artur and running towards his defensive side of the field, changed directions with the pass with enough force to send speedy winger Luis Diaz behind the Miami defensive backline. Diaz scored and Columbus secured three points at home.
“I thought Steven (Moreira) had one of his best games of the year,” said head coach Caleb Porter following the victory. “Milos (Degenek) was a warrior today.”
This MLS Team of the Week award is the third for Moreira and the second in a row. For Degenek, who joined MLS in the 2022 offseason, this is his first individual award.
Degenek’s award brings Columbus’ season total numb er of MLS Team of the Week honor winners to 11. Moreira is now one of four players from the Black & Gold to win the award multiple times in 2022. He joins Zelarayan (5), forward Cucho Hernandez (4) and winger Derrick Etienne Jr. (3).
Columbus doesn’t have much time to bask in any individual awards with another match around the corner. The Crew welcomes the Chicago Fire to Lower.com Field on Saturday. Porter says every match from now till the end of the season is a cup tie, meaning Columbus is treating each one as a win-or-go-home result.