Early goal gives Crew much-needed home win over Impact
First half goals from Matias Sanchez and Dominic Oduro gave the Columbus Crew a 2-0 win over Montreal at Crew stadium, easing some of the pressure that had been mounting on head coach Robert Warzycha after a 6 game run of form that saw the Crew pick up just 5 of a possible 18 points in the league and an early exit from the US Open Cup Thursday in Chicago.
Warzycha had called on his side to play with more commitment following an embarrassing 3-0 defeat in Philadelphia last Wednesday and he will have been pleased with the team’s effort, particularly given the hectic schedule that resulted from weather delaying their Open Cup game from Wednesday to Thursday.
Columbus lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Chad Marshall was a welcome return to the starting 11 but a season ending ACL injury to Glauber Thursday meant he was paired with Josh Williams in the center of defense. It was Williams’ first start at center back of the season. Danny O’Rourke returned to the starting lineup alongside Sanchez in the deep midfield role, Federico Higuain played the #10 spot just off Oduro while Ben Speas and Bernardo Anor occupied the left and right flanks respectively. Tyson Wahl and Chad Barson flanked Marshall and Willams at outside back.
Montreal set out in a 4-4-2 with Andrew Wenger lining up alongside Marco Di Vaio up top. Patrice Bernier and Collen Warner occupied the middle of midfield with Justin Mapp to their right and Felipe to their left at outside midfield. Denis Iapichino, Matteo Ferrari, Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsy lined up across the back.
Crew Press High Up Pitch
The defining feature of the early stages of the first half was that Columbus possessed the ball high up the pitch and looked to quickly close down the ball when they lost possession in the attacking third. With Montreal playing two forwards side by side high up the field, rather than an attacking midfielder playing in the hole just off a main center striker, they struggled to link defense to attack through the middle of the field. The Crew’s high pressure in Montreal’s defensive third therefore forced the Impact to hit hopeful long balls towards Wenger and Di Vaio who were isolated up top.
The Crew’s opener came on 6 minutes when Sanchez’s shot at the top of the box was deflected past Troy Perkins. While there was certainly an element of luck involved in the goal, it came as a result of the Crew’s willingness to get numbers forward and their eagerness to be first to 50-50 balls. Josh Williams hit a hopeful ball forward that Montreal failed to adequately deal with. Higuain was quickest to Brovsky’s attempt at a headed clearance and he managed to steer the ball in the direction of Oduro. Oduro dribbled to the top of the box before laying off to Sanchez for the goal.
Sanchez’s bursting run forward from deep in midfield was indicative of the energy levels he showed all evening. Although the Argentine midfielder can be frustratingly reckless in the tackle, his performance showed the type of grit required to get a struggling team out of a slump. Time and again he won tackles in midfield then sprinted forward to provide an extra attacker in the final third.
The Crew’s pressure high up the pitch paid dividends again in the 22nd minute when Oduro tracked back and caught Warner in possession. The Ghanian striker was able to win the ball from Warner and use his pace to split two defenders before slipping the ball coolly past Perkins.
With a two goal advantage, the Crew sat a little deeper in the second half. Danny O’Rourke provided cover for the back four, sitting just in front of Marshall and Williams and offering help when Di Vaio dropped off into the midfield. Montreal brought in Daniele Paponi to replace Wenger at forward in the 58th minute but the Italian substitute didn’t have much of an impact. The Impact had the bulk of possession in the second half- slightly surprising given the Crew had a man advantage in the middle of midfield- but they didn’t create many opportunities that troubled the Crew defense.
The Crew probably had the best chance of the final 45 minutes when the fantastic Higuain provided a perfectly weight chip for Oduro over the top in the 71st but his one time volley was hit right at Perkins. The Argentine #10 again showed his creativity just before the death when he caught Perkins cheating off his line and chipped just over the bar from 35 yards out.
Despite the poor recent run of form, the win puts Columbus just two points off Philadelphia in the race for the fifth playoff spot. Equally important, beating the top team in the East (and the top team in all of MLS in terms of points per game) should provide the side some much needed confidence moving forward as we approach the halfway point of the season. Another home fixture next weekend against the struggling Chicago Fire will provide the Crew with a great opportunity to once again collect maximum points and move up the table.