Sporting a new formation, Columbus Crew SC romped to the full three points Saturday night.
The Black and Gold defeated D.C. United in fairly dominating 2-0 fashion to get the club’s first win of the year. A pair of penalty kicks from Federico Higuain and Ola Kamara, coupled with an impressive performance in net from Zack Steffen, keyed the shutout.
Formation Change, Twin Penalties Key Columbus Crew SC Win Over D.C. United
Intrigue abounded when the Crew SC starting XI came out. Manager Gregg Berhalter opted for a 3-4-2-1 formation, a departure from the 4-2-3-1 shape that’s been a fixture during his tenure. Given the club’s moves during the off-season, speculation mounted about Berhalter implementing a formation with three central defenders.
Rookie Alex Crognale made his first career start. The young Homegrown stepped in for designated player Jonathan Mensah who received a red card last week against Houston and was suspended. Josh Williams completed the center back trio, making his first appearance for the Black and Gold since re-signing with the club. Williams last played for Columbus in 2014.
The front three saw Higuain and Justin Meram slotted in as playmakers behind lone striker Kamara. As a result, Ethan Finlay began the game on the bench. Ultimately, he became the casualty of the additional center back on the field.
Midway through the first half, D.C. suffered a bit of a setback. Center forward Patrick Mullins came up lame making a run at goal, appearing to tweak his hamstring. It forced manager Ben Olsen into an early substitution as Jose Guillermo Ortiz entered the game in the 28th minute.
The road team broke the deadlock in the 38th minute. After D.C.’s Steve Birnbaum tripped up Kamara in the box, referee Ted Unkel pointed to the spot. Higuain stepped up, hitting the ball low and to Hamid’s right to put Crew SC in front.
Birnbaum’s forgettable night became even more so midway through the second stanza. Once again, he made contact with Kamara in the box and drew a PK whistle from Unkel. This time, Kamara took the spot kick and went the other way on Hamid, doubling the Crew SC advantage.
Steffen came up with a few key saves to preserve the clean sheet. In the 48th minute, he ventured off his line and denied a potential equalizer from Ortiz. 21 minutes later, he acrobatically dove to his left in parrying away a Patrick Nyarko header that would’ve halved the Crew SC advantage.
Columbus also looked hugely impressive in front of Steffen. This is especially true of Crognale. The rookie finished the game with 11 clearances, five recoveries, four tackles and an 82 percent pass success rate. Advanced statistics site Whoscored gave him the second highest rating among all players who saw the field.
The win moves Columbus to 27-27-11 all-time against DC United. The result also marks a rare road success in this series, with Crew SC winning just its tenth game in 34 at RFK Stadium. With D.C. moving into a new facility in 2018, Saturday’s game was the final regular season meeting between these two MLS originals at RFK.
After two straight games away from home, the Black and Gold return to MAPFRE Stadium next Saturday. The club faces the Portland Timbers at home for the first time since their 2-1 defeat in MLS Cup 2015. The match kicks off at 7:30 PM Eastern Time and will be televised locally on CW Columbus and Spectrum Sports Ohio.
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications