The Columbus Crew seemed to be heading for another disappointing result Saturday night when they entered halftime trailing 1-0 to the Montreal Impact, but the sellout crowd of more than 21,000 at Crew Stadium was in for a redemption tale.
The Crew (5-7-8) mounted a second-half comeback to notch a 2-1 victory on a pair of goals by midfielder Bernardo Anor.
“I think we actually get more benefit out of a win like this than if we had come out and won 3- or 4-0,” Crew team captain and defender Michael Parkhurst said after the game. “It brings the team together when you have to grind out a win like that, especially the way things have been going lately.”
The Crew enjoyed its first three-point showing since a 2-0 victory against Chicago May 24. The team had been 0-3-4 since then.
Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark said the mentality in the Crew locker room at the half was that they needed to “fight like hell.”
Clark certainly embodied that attitude against Montreal (3-10-5) from the 46th minute on. He made all five of his saves after the break, including two on back-to-back Montreal shots in the 64th minute and another in the 69th that required an acrobatic leap to accomplish.
“(Anor) scored two fantastic goals, but (Clark) was our man of the match,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said in a postgame press conference. “He came up big. He’s been doing that all year.”
Columbus took 18 total shots on goal. Furthermore, outside defenders Chad Barson and Waylon Francis covered space along the length of the field instead of only roaming in the Impact’s attacking half.
Parkhurst said that the conceded goal — a 35th minute strike from Impact forward Marco Di Vaio that developed from what Berhalter described as a defensive “miscue” — was the product of the Canadian squad converting “pretty much their only chance of the first half.”
“We try to get our fullbacks forward, we try to play attacking soccer. And you’re going to leave yourself vulnerable at times. You’re going to give up some chances at times,” Berhalter said. “When they scored, it took a little out of us. It hurt us a bit.”
Midfielder Kevan George got his first start of the season Saturday after
teammate Wil Trapp was given a one-game suspension because he received two yellow cards and a subsequent ejection Wednesday during a 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
Stepping in for Trapp, who is tied for third on the team with three assists this season, George’s contributions did not go unnoticed by his colleagues.
“Their strikers (Di Vaio and forward Jack McInerney) sometimes spread out wide and it drags us — the center backs — wide with them,” Parkhurst said. “So we talked to Kevan before the game and said if that happens, he has to sit between us so that we’re not completely stretched as a team.”
George sank back several times to relieve pressure along the backline between 2014 MLS All-Star Parkhurst and Costa Rican national team defender Giancarlo Gonzalez.
“I thought (George) had a really strong game,” Parkhurst said. “I think it would have been the same (plan with Trapp playing). You know, that holding midfielder, that’s his responsibility to sit there in front of the defense to be the first man to start the attacks. But most importantly, for the counterattacks.”
Berhalter agreed, saying “Montreal does a great job in offensive transition … we were trying to minimize that by having Kevan kind of stay and then keep a middle presence.”
Another bright spot for the Crew was how substitute forward Aaron Schoenfeld became an immediate offensive threat after coming off the bench for Adam Bedell in the 67th minute.
Schoenfeld had gone on a recent tear scoring goals for the USL-PRO’s Dayton Dutch Lions FC during a stint on loan from the Crew, including a hat trick against the Charlotte Eagles July 5. The striker had earned his way back to training in Columbus on the strength of his production in Dayton and he saw action with the Crew as a reserve against the New York Red Bulls July 12.
Schoenfeld’s first touch Saturday was a header off a corner kick taken by midfielder Federico Higuain and his shot bounced off the right goalpost.
Berhalter said bringing Schoenfeld on was a “great” substitution for the game.
“Aaron’s a little bit more mobile (than Bedell),” he said. “He’s big and he’s aggressive, and I thought he did a good job.”
Columbus’ next league matchup has it playing the New England Revolution in a crucial conference showdown July 26 in Foxboro, Mass. Both teams have 23 total points in the Eastern standings but New England (7-10-2) currently occupies fifth place on a tiebreaker by merit of having more wins.
The Crew are slated to take on English Premier League side Crystal Palace F.C. in an exhibition match Wednesday at Crew Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.