It took Federico Higuain less than 90 minutes to score his first MLS goal for the Columbus Crew as they defeated Toronto FC 2-1. The Argentine forward made his first start for the Black And Yellow after coming on as a halftime sub against Houston on Sunday; a game in which he also looked to provide an attacking spark that the Crew have so desperately desired.
(And for those wondering, I am not David Burgin. Unfortunately David will no longer be covering Columbus for GFT but fear not! I may blog for Liverpool as well, but I grew up in Columbus so I am well versed in all things MASSIVE)
So let’s reset the scene for a moment: Last night’s victory was the third match for Columbus in the last seven days. They tied LA 1-1 last Wednesday and gave away two points on Sunday night in Houston thanks to the Hebrew Hammer’s fumblerooski. Saturday night New England comes to town and then comes Philadelphia. The Crew are currently seven points behind DC United for the last playoff spot in the East but also have one less game played. So in other words: these next two (very much winnable) matches against New England and Philly are truly MASSIVE.
But back to last night.
Higuain’s second half goal proved to be the difference as Toronto did manage to pull one back. The Crew’s first goal came from Eddie Gaven in the fourth minute when his shot from outside the box received a fortuitous deflection. Call it karma repaying the Crew for Andy Gruenebaum’s blunder on Sunday.
So what did we learn from this match?
-The back four continue to struggle to look cohesive. The defending leading up to Toronto’s goal was criminal. Why the normally stout Chard Marshall is having difficulty holding things together at the back is beyond me. Your guess is as good as mine.
-It probably also doesn’t help that Chris Birchall hasn’t played superb at the holding midfield spot. In my opinion this is Columbus’ biggest need right now. When they had possession they looked dangerous, but they need someone who can get back to help the back four and retrieve the ball. And no, I don’t necessarily think Tony Tchani is the answer either. Cole Grossman has only played a couple times this season so I’m willing to give him more time to prove himself.
-Jairo Arrieta continues to struggle in front of goal. He might be pressing a bit too much, but he had several poor first touches in the box last night and he failed to create any dangerous shots. I’m not worried though as he and Higuain and Eddie Gaven are forming a formidable trio in the final third right now. They’ll only get better with time.
-The crowd certainly left a lot to be desired, but to be fair this was a Wednesday night makeup game. It hasn’t been on the schedule all year and it never would have occurred if not for Kirk Urso’s tragic death. And as I told a buddy of mine: it’s one thing to have a sparse crowd, it’s another to have it in a stadium built for 25,000 when most of today’s new stadiums around the league are built for less than 20K.
-The Other Higuain has been a huge difference maker since his arrival. He has the kind of technical ability that can make most MLS defenders extremely nervous. He also seems to have a nose for goal whether he’s scoring himself and setting someone else up a la Sunday night’s second half goal against Houston. And the best part is that he’s only 27! He’s got a chance to be the next Guillermo only for a much longer period of time.
-Eddie Gaven continues to find the ball at his feet with an opportunity to score and he continues to take advantage. Hard to believe he’s only 25, but the Bearded One is getting hot at the right time for Columbus.
-As I said before, when they held possession the Crew were quite dangerous. Things finally seeming to be coming together with the arrival of Higuain and there’s a lot to be excited about going forward; especially the upcoming opponents.
The defense struggled mightily at times last night, but ultimately Columbus got the three points they so desperately need at this point in the season. I really liked the Starting XI that was chosen, but I would probably swap either Tchani or Grossman in for Birchall and Dilly Duka or Justin Meram for Emilio Renteria. The biggest issue for Columbus this season has been failing to field a consistent Starting XI due to injuries. I think last night showed us the best combination going forward and if they can all play together consistently then I think this team is capable of getting hot down the stretch and finding a way into the playoffs. With New England and Philadelphia coming up next, anything less than six points could be devastating.