The Columbus Crew are back in the win column for the first time in almost two months after a 2-0 home triumph against the Chicago Fire Saturday.
Midfielder Ethan Finlay and forward Jairo Arrieta scored first-half goals for the Crew (4-4-4), each converting assists from forward Federico Higuain to top the Fire (2-3-6).
In a postgame press conference, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter praised his club’s effort to get its first win since a 94th-minute Justin Meram goal lifted Columbus to three points at the Seattle Sounders March 29.
“I think we’ve been frustrated that we’ve been playing well and not getting the results,” Berhalter said. “So from that standpoint, we’re happy. I think it was a good effort, obviously missing some guys (to FIFA World Cup roster call-ups), and the guys who filled in did a great job.”
Columbus defender Eric Gehrig anchored the backline by consistently positioning himself at the right moment throughout the game to contest Fire possessions and clear balls.
Gehrig showed poise in his first appearance this year, filling the vacancy created by Giancarlo Gonzalez’s stint with the Costa Rican national team.
“I felt like (Gehrig) had a fantastic game. We knew that there was a lot of players on this team that could play, and Eric obviously stepped up tonight,” Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark said of his fellow defender after the game.
The Crew defense was able to repel Chicago’s attack duo of Juan Luis Anangono and Quincy Amarikwa repeatedly, and while the Fire attempted 15 total shots on goal, Clark only needed four saves to achieve his second clean sheet of 2014.
It was the first shutout loss of the year for Chicago.
“Chicago hasn’t been shut out yet this season, so I think that speaks for itself. And the guys did it with determination,” Berhalter said. “Guys like Eric Gehrig, Tyson (Wahl), you know, Hector (Jimenez) when he was in there. I mean Chad Barson I thought was excellent as well … Steve Clark also, very secure on crosses, didn’t give up any rebounds.”
Finlay provided the offensive spark with his 10th minute tally – his first-ever goal at Crew Stadium. It was his second goal of the season, and second in as many games after scoring as a substitute against the Portland Timbers May 17.
The midfielder was voted Man of the Match by Crew fans.
“This game isn’t something that comes out of the blue. If we look at what he’s been doing over these last couple weeks, it’s been leading towards a performance like this,” Berhalter said, describing Finlay’s journey of trying to just make the 18-man roster at first to now being a starter. “He was player of the game, for me. He was excellent.”
“I kind of fought my way up the depth chart,” Finlay said. “It’s been great. You know, a lot of these guys who were playing in front of me were always pushing me, (and) I was pushing them. And it’s definitely a very good feeling to get a good victory tonight.”
A notable omission from the Crew’s starting 11 was defender Michael Parkhurst, who was cut from the U.S. national team Friday as the 23-man World Cup roster was finalized.
Parkhurst, who is the club’s captain, was substituted in for Chad Barson in the 87th minute to a standing ovation and chanting of his name.
Berhalter said he denied Parkhurst’s request to start, based on his evaluation of what had been a grueling week that included “tough” practices with the national team in Stanford, Calif., and a red-eye flight back home to Columbus on Friday after he was cut.
“He wanted to play, but I didn’t think it was worth the risk because of potential injury after all that travel and training,” Berhalter said. “It was good to get him on the field … He’s been through a lot in these last couple days and it’s nice for him to feel that everyone supports him.”
Parkhurst – in his first year with the Crew – said it is a tough time for him, but added he was glad to return home to Columbus.
“We didn’t know that the cuts were coming that day,” Parkhurst said of being denied the chance to play in Brazil. “It’s nice to be back home … It’s difficult, of course. You know, that was the ultimate dream. But you have to bounce back and be professional and now my sole focus is the Crew.”
Columbus is slated to travel to Toronto to take on their Trillium Cup rivals Saturday, where they will have to play without Higuain because of his one-game suspension due to accumulated yellow cards.