Columbus Crew SC‘s playoff destiny may be out of its hands. But if Saturday’s result was any indication, the last thing the club is going to do is throw in the towel.
In the final home match of the regular season and in front of 20,034 at MAPFRE Stadium (a franchise record sixth sellout of the year), the Black and Gold were dominant throughout. It showed on the scoreboard as Columbus romped to a 3-0 victory over Midwestern rival Chicago Fire.
Columbus Crew SC Keeps Fighting, Routs Chicago Fire 3-0
Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter made a few changes to his starting XI from Wednesday’s disappointing 3-0 loss to DC United. Gaston Sauro returned to central defense after Michael Parkhurst and Nicolai Naess got the start midweek. Naess was slotted into defensive midfield in place of Wil Trapp. And Adam Jahn got his second start up top since signing with the club, replacing Ola Kamara who joined Trapp on the bench.
Columbus opened up the scoring in spectacular fashion in the eighth minute. After forcing their first corner of the game, midfielder Mohammed Saeid distributed it short to right back Harrison Afful. The diminutive Ghanaian had plenty of space to blast a shot from outside the box. And that’s exactly what he did, firing a knuckleball that completely befuddled Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Afful’s overall effort on the night was quite impressive considering he had to come off injured late in Wednesday’s game. And it earned high praise from his head coach afterwards.
“Don’t be surprised by anything Harrison does,” Berhalter told Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch. “He’s a phenomenal player, he’s a real player. And he showed it tonight.”
Afful’s tally held up throughout the first half as Columbus enjoyed a 1-0 at halftime. The Black and Gold’s 8-3 edge in total shots was indicative of which side of the field a majority of the chances were being created.
Not much changed after the two teams came out of the locker room. It only took five minutes for Crew SC to double their lead. This time, it was left winger Justin Meram to contribute to the score sheet. Taking a wide through ball from Dilly Duka, Meram tucked inside to elude Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam in the box. His low shot towards the near post beat Johnson for his fifth goal of the year.
But the home side wasn’t done in making their rivals’ night miserable. Nine minutes after scoring for Crew SC, Meram turned provider. His initial pass to Saeid initiated a counterattack for the Black and Gold. The Swedish international squared it to a relatively unmarked Duka who deftly touched it past Johnson to make it 3-0.
With the helper, Meram extends his career high assist total to ten. And he noted after the game that him evolving into more of a provider can only improve his quality as a footballer. Missing playmaker Federico Higuain has given this element of his game added importance.
“That’s one part of my game that I think I’ve really progressed,” Meram noted. “I’m happy with it because to me an assist is just as good and I’m a team player all around.”
It’s difficult to talk providers when describing what transpired Saturday without mentioning Saeid. His two-assist night means he has four over Crew SC’s last five games. To put that in perspective, he’s had just two other helpers over the course of his entire two-year stint in Columbus.
Berhalter has been mightily impressed with Saeid’s work rate over this stretch of games for the club that has included three games in six days.
“Think about him playing all the games this week and (he’s) still going,” the Crew SC boss mentioned. “That’s not easy to do.”
“We had a decision to make (about) if he was gonna be able to go or not and he was ready. He recovered really well from the last game and he put in a strong performance.”
Columbus still needs quite a bit of help if they’re going to sneak into the playoffs. They’re currently eighth in the East and trail sixth-placed Montreal by six points. The Impact play Orlando City on Sunday in a game where a draw is probably the most favorable result.
The Black and Gold are off next week due to an upcoming FIFA date. The club is back in action on Thursday, October 13th when they take on this same Chicago Fire team at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL. Kickoff is set for 8:30 PM ET.
Photo courtesy of Columbus Crew SC Communications.