Pat Brennan / Sports editor
If only for one hot, muggy night against a worn and jet-lagged opponent, the Columbus Crew were better than English Premier League side Stoke City.
On the strength of it’s homegrown talent, the Crew upset Stoke, 2-1, with a second-half goals by Crew development academy players, forward Aaron Horton and forward Ben Speas, Tuesday at Crew Stadium. Former Ohio State goalkeeper Matt Lampson, also a product of the Crew’s development academy, played the final 45 minutes to help preserve the win.
Both teams’ managers admitted that with the Crew in the middle of the MLS regular season and Stoke in preseason preparation for the 2012-13 English Premier League campaign, fitness played a major factor in the outcome of the match.
“I think we played pretty well,” said Crew manager Robert Warzycha following the international friendly win. “It was a very good result for us. I think there was a difference in the fitness. I think (Stoke) was a little heavy, especially in the end of the game. They’re in the preseason, so that’s obvious.”
Stoke City manager Tony Pullis, who managed the “Potters” to a
14th-place finish and 45 points in England’s top division, said his
players were tired after flying from Switzerland to face Columbus.
“I thought Columbus (was) very good,” Pullis said after the loss. “It
was a good workout for us … we looked a little bit leggy at times. But I don’t want to take anything away from (Columbus). I thought they played really well.”
Stoke City, nicknamed the “Potters” because of the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, started its U.S. tour in proper fashion, taking a 1-0 lead against Columbus on Jonathan Walters’ headed goal in the 23rd minute.
That score held through halftime, but Columbus wasn’t lacking for offense as it took four shots in the first half. Crew midfielder Dilly Duka had the most promising of those four shots – a 25-yard blast that beat Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic but struck the crossbar.
Columbus wouldn’t be held down for much longer, though.
Lampson, who was not made available for comment after the game, stood in goal for Columbus to start the second half but was rarely tested as the Crew took advantage of a tired Potters team that had spent its morning exercise working on conditioning.
Horton leveled the game at 1-1 in the 71st minute when he cleaned up a loose ball inside the penalty area, beating replacement Stoke goalkeeper, Thomas Sorenson.
The goal was Horton’s first as a member of the Black and Gold, and he called the moment a “dream come true” after the game.
“It was great,” Horton said. “I dreamed about my first goal and going to the Nordecke (cheering section). I just thank God. It was awesome.”
The Crew appeared unsatisfied with a draw and pushed for the go-ahead strike late in the game.
The Crew’s offensive onslaught finally produced a winning tally in the 87th minute when Speas ripped a shot from just inside the penalty area that took a deflection and sent Sorensen diving in the wrong direction.
Speas’ goal held up during the final minutes of the contest and the Crew took the win, improving to 11-4-2 in international friendlies in the club’s history.
“We just wanted to have fun out there,” Speas said. “(Stoke City) is a world-class team and, obviously, they’re a lot bigger than us. We wanted to keep the ball on the ground and keep the ball moving and all of us did that. That’s why we were so successful.”
Pulis said he was happy with Stoke’s performance, and that playing in the heat and humidity was a benefit to his team’s fitness level.
“It’s not about winning games in preseason,” Pulis said. “It’s about the start of the season and getting the players prepared. Like I said, give (Columbus) great credit. They gave us a great game today.”
Stoke will begin its regular season in the Premier League Aug. 18 against Reading United.
Warzycha said the win was very exciting for his club, especially for Horton and Speas.
“(The team) took the opportunity with both hands,” he said. “They placed very well. I’m sure (Horton and Speas) are going to remember this game for a long, long time.”