Columbus, Ohio (June 9, 2018) — In the first half, Columbus Crew SC looked like an irresistible force. The second half? Not so much.
The Black and Gold played fellow MLS charter member New York Red Bulls to a 1-1 draw in a nationally televised match at MAPFRE Stadium. It’s a result that does increase Columbus’ unbeaten run to nine games. But in the grand scheme of things, the full three points were certainly there for the taking.
A Tale of Two Halves: Columbus Crew SC Squanders Points Against the New York Red Bulls
Columbus controlled the tempo for much of the first half. That showed in the opening 20 minutes with the Black and Gold outshooting the Red Bulls 6-2. It included a sequence in the 11th minute that culminated with Artur blasting a shot at goal which induced an impressive diving reaction save from goalkeeper Luis Robles.
The breakthrough for the home side came in the 26th minute. What stood out about it was that it encompassed the ethos by which this Crew SC side likes to generate chances at goal. Harrison Afful began a blistering run in the defensive half, dribbling into space. He then found Federico Higuain about 25 yards from goal and came back onto the ball in the box via a give and go. The Ghanaian right back then whipped in a cross towards Gyasi Zardes who headed it past Robles for his 10th of the season.
With the tally, Zardes’ goal-scoring total is officially in double figures. It marks the first time he’s done so since the 2014 season when he netted 17 for the LA Galaxy who went on to claim their 5th MLS Cup.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 9, 2018
Harrison Afful Continues to Turn Heads
Afful’s ability to push forward and contribute to the Crew SC attack was on full display against the Red Bulls. His exploits on the lone goal of the game for the club manifested how important he is to the club’s chance creation.
“He’s a guy that leads our back line in attacking threats,” his manager Gregg Berhalter told Last Word on Soccer in the post-game press conference. “He gets forward with vengeance, he’s aggressive in the penalty box, he has a great cross. I thought in the first half, (he was) amazing.”
Afful’s teammate Mike Grella concurred and even went a bit further.
“You could argue he’s the best right back in the league,” Grella noted. “He’s an awesome professional. You can see he that he’s so effective and so dangerous with the ball and it’s week in and week out.”
The Black and Gold likely felt hard done given they weren’t up by more than one at the halftime break. They hit the woodwork twice with Pedro Santos nailing one off the crossbar in the 15th minute and Zardes knocking one off the right post in first-half stoppage time.
Red Bulls Ratchet Up Their Intensity in Second 45
RBNY looked completely outmatched in the opening 45. But that clearly wasn’t the case when the two sides came out of the locker room for the second stanza. The Red Bulls played with renewed vigor and pressed Columbus deep into their own half in search of an equalizer.
12 minutes in, they found paydirt and in so doing probably made Crew SC regret not converting more of the chances they had in the first half. A foul by Lalas Abubakar resulted in a free kick for the Red Bulls slightly to the right of goal about 25 yards out. Marc Rzatkowski, who came on in the 18th minute for an injured Vincent Bezecourt, curled in a cross that Alex Muyl headed past Jon Kempin. The Crew SC keeper seemed to come off his line a bit prematurely which made the goal possible.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) June 9, 2018
Making subtle changes in your approach to a given contest is a key element to success as a manager. And the Red Bulls’ Jesse Marsch did just that in putting his team in position to equalize.
“Give (the Red Bulls) credit for adjusting at halftime and coming out aggressive in the second half,” Berhalter told Andrew Erickson of the Columbus Dispatch. “I don’t think we matched that intensity at the beginning of the second half.”
There isn’t a better example of how bipolar this game was than a simple perusal of the shot totals at the end of both halves. When referee Alan Kelly signaled the conclusion of the first 45, Crew SC had a 15-2 edge in total shots. After a second half that saw the Red Bulls outshoot Columbus 9-4, their advantage dwindled to 19-11. It’s an adequate summation of a game marked by missed opportunities for the Black and Gold.
What’s Next for Columbus
The final match of Crew SC’s four-game homestand across all competitions takes place this coming Wednesday when they face Atlanta United at home for the only time in 2018. It’s the first of two meetings between the two clubs who met in the knockout round of last year’s playoffs. Proceedings get underway at 7:30 p.m. ET.