A first half goal from Ola Kamara was all Columbus Crew SC needed in a 1-0 victory over Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt in an international friendly at MAPFRE Stadium. The win moved the Black and Gold to 4-0 all-time against clubs from Germany’s top flight.
Monday’s matchup with Die Adler (“The Eagles”) was Crew SC’s first encounter with a team from the Bundesliga since May 15, 2002, a 7-2 win over FC Nürnburg. Including this most recent win over Eintracht, Columbus’ four wins against German sides have come by a combined scoreline of 16-6.
Ola Kamara’s Lone Tally Helps Columbus Crew SC Defeat Eintracht Frankfurt
Manager Gregg Berhalter brought out a 3-2-4-1 formation for Monday’s match. Brad Stuver made his second start of the season, having last appeared in the club’s U.S. Open Cup game against FC Cincinnati. Lalas Abubakar, fresh off an impressive performance in his first ever MLS minutes in a 1-0 win over Minnesota United, started alongside Alex Crognale and Jonathan Mensah in central defense.
Further up the field, Jukka Raitala and Hector Jimenez started at left and right wing-back respectively. Wil Trapp and Mohammed Abu sat in front of the back line. Meanwhile, Kekuta Manneh and Cristian Martinez functioned as dual central playmakers underneath the lone striker Ola Kamara.
USMNT fans are fairly familiar with one of the players who made the starting XI for Eintracht as Timmy Chandler got the nod at right back. Chandler currently has 29 caps with the Stars and Stripes.
Crew SC got things going from a scoring standpoint in the 26th minute. Martinez received the ball about 40 yards from goal and made a great turn in evading his man. He then dribbled into space and squared the ball to Kamara who beat Eintracht goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky at near point blank range to make it 1-0.
Trapp’s initial pass to Martinez played a significant role in the lead-up to the goal. It seemed to unlock a rather high line Eintracht was employing at the time. Once Martinez pivoted towards goal, it was off to the races.
Seeing his first minutes of the season for Crew SC, Martinez’s assist is certainly indicative of his quality as an attacking player. It’s a testament to the club’s depth that he hasn’t seen more time.
“I’ve said all along that it’s a shame Cristian hasn’t gotten more games this year,” Berhalter noted post-game. “It’s a disappointment to me that he hasn’t been playing regularly because he has ability.”
Both teams finished the first half with three total shots. In Crew SC’s case, all three ended up on target with two forcing a save out of Hradecky. Both teams also committed seven fouls, with Martinez and Abu receiving cautions for Columbus.
The second half saw Eintracht make an increasingly concerted effort to get the equalizer. Both teams managed four shots total, but the German visitors managed three on target compared to Crew SC’s one. The biggest opportunity came when 75th minute sub Max Besuschkow tested Stuver eight minutes later.
It came as a result of a good effort from Besuschkow to get in behind the Crew SC centerbacks. But the second-string netminder was more than up to the task keeping the ball out of his goal. The fact that the ball hit him with fairly high velocity “below the belt” so to speak lends credence to that notion.
“I think we got caught scrambling a little bit,” Stuver said. “They made a nice through ball through a couple of our guys but it was in a wide position where I was able to cut the angle down and make myself big and he had a bullseye on a not so nice area.”
This formation, which Berhalter has already used twice in the regular season, utilized two players who occupy the “number ten” role as opposed to one in their normal 4-2-3-1 shape. It wasn’t always perfect, given how seldom Crew SC plays in this formation. But given the performance of Martinez, it speaks to his overall versatility.
“Our understanding of what positions they should be in probably wasn’t as organized as we would’ve liked (in the first half),” Trapp stated. “But when you have dribblers in there that can get the ball, turn, (and) make plays, it adds a new dynamic.”
From a big picture standpoint, friendlies against international opponents may not appear hugely important at first glance. But even though Monday’s German opponent is still getting their legs under them, they still boast a plethora of high level players. And that, in and of itself, poses a unique challenge all its own.
“They’re in preseason, they’re flying all around the country and it’s difficult for them to bring the energy level that’s always needed,” Berhalter emphasized. “But they still have quality. We’re talking about a team that just transferred a guy for €9 million.”
“It’s still a squad with a lot of quality and anytime you can play a squad like that you get to measure yourself. So the competing part of it and seeing how guys competed is what we’re looking for.”
The Black and Gold returns to MLS play this coming Saturday as they welcome the Philadelphia Union to MAPFRE Stadium. It’s the first meeting of 2017 between the two clubs. The two clubs renew pleasantries four days later at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA. Both matches kick off at 7:30 PM ET.
Photo credit: Columbus Crew SC Communications