Road openers haven’t been kind to the Columbus Crew over the years. They have opened on the road seven times in the history of MLS before last week’s game against Chivas. Their last win came 15 years ago, a 2-1 victory over the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny. In that game, Crew legend Frankie Hejduk was playing on the other side of the field from current Crew coaches Mike Lapper and Robert Warzycha.
Since then, the Crew have lost road openers to New York, Tampa, Kansas City, D.C. and Colorado. The only points came against Houston in 2009, yielding an abysmal 1-5-1 record opening away from home.
Likewise, the Black and Gold have fared poorly against Chivas USA with a 1-5-1 record in Los Angeles, the sole win coming in 2005.
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So, the Crew had behind them a long history of failure as they prepared for their 2013 opener at Chivas.
Fortunately, the team wasn’t interested in history. Columbus controlled the game, got a Federico Higuain goal early in the second half, and tacked on two late insurance goals to beat a hapless Chivas USA team that is in the middle of a roster overhaul.
For all the focus on the superlative Higuain, the win was a true team effort with three goals by three different scorers. The win showed the depth and versatility the Crew have on offense.
Goal: Higuain – 51st minute – 1-0 Crew
The first goal, scored early in the second half, was borne out of an excellent buildup and a series of passes that coaxed space for Higuain to work his magic. Columbus had looked better than Chivas throughout the first half, but was unable to break through with a goal. The home team started with immediate pressure in the second half and looked closer to scoring for those first five minutes coming out of the locker room. The Black and Gold were in danger of letting a good effort go to waste.
However, unlike so many times last year, the defense held off the Chivas charge and allowed the Crew offense a chance to go to work. The play built up from a fizzled Chivas cross that goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum smothered. As he jumped to his feet, many of the Crew players broke out downfield for a long kick. Gruenebaum looked for a long outlet, but didn’t see any good options and threw the ball to the right back Josh Williams to the side of the 18 yard box.
Williams, dribbling up the right touchline in the defensive third, looked up and found forward Jairo Arrieta at the halfway line with a pass along the ground. Arrieta turned and made a diagonal run, pulling two Chivas defenders with him, dropped a pass to Higuain at the midfield circle. The extra space given by Arrieta allowed the Argentine maestro to burst around the defender, driving toward the right side the offensive zone.
The Chivas defense collapsed on Higuain as he arrived at the offensive third. Right winger Dominic Oduro allowed his marker to collapse onto Higuain, leaving him free about 30 yards from goal. Oduro drove a 25 yard pass to the left side of the field towards the industrious Arrieta, who had broken into the space away from the play. Arrieta lost the ball when he slipped trying to elude two defenders.
The ball had rolled towards midfield, but defensive midfielder Agustin Viana had charged forward from deep midfield to corral the ball and pop up to get the ball back to Arrieta on the left touchline. Arrieta looked up and found left winger Eddie Gaven in a pocket of space right at the top of the 18 yard box with his back to goal. Gaven took a touch and returned the ball immediately to Arrieta. The forward then played a one touch pass to Higuain who uncorked a bending shot from 30 yards that kissed off the post and in.
The whole sequence took 40 seconds from when Grunebaum smothered the cross and the Chivas attack to Higuain’s shot going in. Seven Crew players touched the ball in the buildup to the team’s breakthrough goal and the team played nine passed before Higuain took his shot. It was a beautiful use of space to stretch a defense and create a chance.
Goal: Williams – 88th minute – 2-0 Crew
The Crew’s second goal was the opposite of the team’s first goal. There was no well worked passing sequences or ingenious runs into space. It was a straightforward corner kick into the box by Gaven, taking the kick for the substituted Higuain, which Josh Williams acrobatically finished to give the Crew some breathing room. Williams took advantage of poor Chivas defending and a good pass and was finally rewarded after having a sure goal saved by Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy.
The buildup for the corner was built off of hustle and physicality than technical expertise. Defender Glauber cleaned up a Chivas long ball attempt. Viana headed the ball to Chad Marshall who then launched it downfield. Rookie substitute Ryan Finley settled under the ball and held off his defender. As Finley raced down the right side, Oduro sprinted down the center, giving him a passing option. Finley closed in on Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy and tried to pass to Oduro, but it was knocked out for a corner. This gave Gaven his chance to lob the ball that Williams finished. Hustle and hard work got the job done.
Goal: Oduro – 94th minute – 3-0 Crew
This would be the final action in the game, a true counterattacking goal. Oduro had run miles on the night but still was pressuring the ball on a late Chivas attack. Chivas midfielder Tristan Bowen took a pass from the left side and was trying to control the ball. Oduro stepped into his path and cleanly took the ball away without a defender between him and the opposition goal.
Oduro, considered the fastest man in MLS, broke out into a sprint, leaving Bowen behind. Finley, with fresh legs, pushed down the field to give Oduro a passing option as he looked to take on Kennedy. Oduro wouldn’t need the help as he dribbled past the keeper and neatly finished his own breakaway. The time from stealing to finish, nine seconds.
One Man Show?
All of the talk in the preseason was about the role Higuain would play for the Crew. He was very good once again, scoring his first goal of the season on a beauty of a shot. However, two of the team’s goals were scored while he had already been lifted. A defender, midfielder, and a forward all chipped in goals at the team. This will only help lighten the load on the player that many consider as a strong preseason MVP candidate. It will also be tougher for opponents; they can focus on stopping Higuain, but this year it looks like he has help.