Two games. Two victories.
Gregg Berhalter is off to a good start as the coach of the Columbus Crew.
The Crew won the first home game of its 2014 MLS campaign Saturday and, in so doing, attained a 2-0-0 record for the first time in the 18-year history of the franchise.
With a 2-1 victory against the Philadephia Union (1-1-1) in a hard-fought match under the lights at Crew Stadium, the home team gave its fans reason to be excited for this season.
“You want to win every game you’re a part of, and the guys have put a nice little run together, if you include preseason,” Berhalter said in a postgame press conference. “We’re proud of it … (but) we still have a lot of work to do.”
Columbus controlled the ball early, but Philadelphia used several possessions between the 10th and 15th minutes to threaten and pressure the Crew. The first Union corner kick of the game was deflected out of the box by Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark, one of his three saves on the day.
The Crew’s first corner, however, was more fruitful as forward Federico Higuain’s boot led to a header score by midfielder Bernardo Anor for a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute.
“Credit to our coaching staff. We found a spot of vulnerability in Philadelphia when they’re defending corners and we addressed it and we got the goal off of that,” Berhalter said.
Anor clinched man-of-the-match honors with his second goal of the evening, when he struck the ball from 25 yards out in first-half stoppage time. Center midfielder Wil Trapp was credited with the assist.
“You can see Philadelphia is a team that likes to move the ball like us. I feel like it was more competitive (than the Crew’s March 7 game against D.C. United),” Anor said after the game.
The Union would respond in the second half when forward Leonardo Fernandes notched a goal for his team in the 62nd minute.
The defensively postured formation that took the field Saturday is unlike anything the Crew implemented last season under then-head coach Robert Warzycha and later under interim head coach Brian Bliss, who took the reins for the team’s final eight games when Warzycha was released from his contract Sept. 2.
The players are buying into Berhalter’s coaching style and schemes, though.
“I honestly think it’s Gregg. It’s his ability to really pinpoint what he wants,” defender Josh Williams said March 20 while discussing what is helping the Crew perform better so far this year. “The difference is communication … we give everybody a role, let them know exactly what they need to do. And once we get into spot here, what the other person needs to do. (Berhalter’s) experience in Europe has really helped everybody out.”
Columbus dominated the battle for possession during the first half — owning the ball 62 percent of the time before the break — but allowed the Union a 56 percent second-half advantage in dictating the game’s tempo late.
Supporters of the Black and Gold know all too well it’s still early in the year, but the early success is likely to cause excitement among the fans.
Columbus has gone on to post successful performances in the postseason two of the last three times it won its home debut, winning the MLS Cup in 2008 and making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals before falling victim to Colorado in 2010.
Looking forward, Berhalter said he thinks his team is better off for having encountered some adversity Saturday in their toppling of a formidable Philadelphia club.
“Well, some of the grit we needed today, we’re going to need next week,” Berhalter said of the Crew’s upcoming game against Seattle Sounders FC. “And, you know, I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited to go up there. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Columbus is slated to take on Seattle (1-1-0) next Saturday at 10 p.m., and the Crew’s next home game is scheduled for April 5 against Toronto FC at 6 p.m.
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