A recurring theme from last season showed up in the 2017 MLS opener for Columbus Crew SC.
In front of a boisterous 15,023 at a cold and windy MAPFRE Stadium Saturday afternoon, the Black and Gold enjoyed a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Fire for over three-quarters of the game. But a 73rd minute tally from David Accam tied things up for the visitors. In the end, the home-standing side from Ohio’s capital city settled for a share of the spoils.
The result highlighted a continued inability to protect second half advantages on the part of Crew SC. But despite not getting the full three points, some positives emerged from the match.
Second Half David Accam Goal Forces Columbus Crew SC to Settle for Draw in 2017 MLS Opener
The Black and Gold’s first opportunity to break the deadlock came three minutes in. It came via some dynamic combination play on the right flank.
Federico Higuain collected an overshot Jukka Raitala cross from the left. He then passed it to Mohammed Abu who strung a through ball to an onrushing Ethan Finlay. Finlay centered it to Justin Meram who blasted it on goal at point blank range but right at Fire goalkeeper Jorge Rodrigo Bava who saved it.
Columbus opened up the scoring in the 17th minute, with Finlay opening up his account for the year. The Crew SC right winger deftly headed a perfectly placed Meram cross into the far corner. Fire goalkeeper Bava didn’t have much of a chance considering the placement of Finlay’s header.
For Finlay, netting the club’s lone goal in the first game of the season is big. 2016 certainly classifies as a down year for the 26-year-old wide player. That becomes apparent considering his first goal didn’t come until April 16th in a 3-2 win over New York City FC.
“It’s great,” Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter emphasized when discussing Finlay’s season-opening tally post-game. “This team needs Ethan Finlay firing on all cylinders, so it’s great to see that.”
Important as getting on the scoresheet this early is, Finlay knew it was coming.
“My confidence going into this year has been high, and it will continue to stay there,” Finlay noted. “That’s because I have great players around me, the coaches believe in me and the players believe in me.”
Meram concurred and thinks both him and Finlay don’t get enough credit from around the league.
“I think we both feed off each other to keep working,” Meram emphasized. “I think we’re both underrated and I think we both have that chip to keep going.”
That scoreline remained heading into the locker room for halftime. Overall, the first 45 saw Crew SC with the lion’s share of chances. The team finished the half with 56.1 percent possession in addition to a 7-2 edge in total shots and a 3-0 edge in shots on target.
A major talking point heading into 2017 involved whether or not Crew SC could let in fewer goals after halftime. That becomes evident considering 45 of the team’s 58 goals last year came in the 2nd half.
Just after the midway point, though, the same old story reared its ugly head. The Fire took advantage of a Crew SC turnover in central midfield, hitting them on the counter. Accam received the ball, took center back Jonathan Mensah one-on-one, and curled it past Steffen for the equalizer.
Early season fatigue late in the game appears to have played a role according to Berhalter.
“(In) these first couple games, you lose a little bit of structure as the second half goes on,” Berhalter told the Columbus Dispatch. “And I think that was the case today and when we did, Chicago punished us.”
A somewhat glaring positive from a defensive standpoint came from Crew SC’s continued surgical distribution out of the back. The club’s back six completed 85.7 percent of their passes. That included a 91 percent accuracy out of the two center backs, Mensah and Nicolai Naess.
The result means that the Black and Gold’s unbeaten run against their rivals from the Windy City extends to ten games. The last Fire victory in the series came on June 22, 2013, a 2-1 win in Columbus.
Crew SC returns to action next Saturday with its first road match of the year against the Houston Dynamo. Kickoff at BBVA Compass Stadium is set for 8:30 PM ET.
Photo courtesy of Columbus Crew SC Communications.