Federico Higuain drove Columbus Crew SC to victory over New York City on Saturday afternoon, recording a goal and an assist during the team’s 2-1 victory. Justin Meram scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute, further ratcheting up the pressure on coach Gregg Berhalter about who should start on the left side of midfield.
Columbus, with Cedrick Mabwati starting on the left in place of Meram, started the game on the front foot with five corner kicks in the first ten minutes. Ethan Finlay was a particularly active presence on the right flank, and it is no coincidence that each of the corners was taken from that flank. A map of all player activity over the first ten minutes shows Cedrick most involved around the midfield line, with all penetrations to the final third coming up the right.
This pressure paid off in the tenth minute with the game’s first goal. Wil Trapp, who took the majority of the team’s corner kicks in lieu of Higuain, drove the ball to the far side of the goal mouth. Higuain, lying in wait at the far post, ducked around Andrea Pirlo and drove a powerful header into the ground that bounced in under the crossbar.
While Columbus was applying this early pressure, New York’s attack unsurprisingly focused on David Villa. The Spaniard had several chances of his own during the opening minutes, but none that troubled Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark.
After the goal from Higuain, New York City asserted themselves more effectively in attack – although Columbus Crew SC continued to find better scoring chances. Kamara three times had the ball at his feet in the penalty area, but each time the chance ended without a shot on goal. Finlay also saw a scoring chance go wanting in the 27th minute as his shot was parried by Saunders, while Cedrick pounced on the loose ball only for his effort to be blocked in the goalmouth.
The significance of these squandered chances grew in stature in the 29th minute as New York City equalized. Andrew Jacobson took advantage of an unbalanced Columbus defense and drove in a long range shot from outside the penalty area. Clark got a hand on the ball, but the shot was struck with enough pace that he could only parry it closer to the post, rather than wide of the mark.
Scoring chances continued to come through the balance of the first half, including an apparent goal from Ethan Finlay that was nullified due to an offside call in the 40th minute. New York City, and especially David Villa, continued to be dangerous at the other end – but eventually halftime arrived with the teams still deadlocked at 1-1.
Columbus regained their advantage in the second half, but the scoring touch continued to evade them. Berhalter turned to his substitutes relatively early, replacing Cedrick with Iraqi international Justin Meram in the 57th minute. This was the only change that Columbus appeared prepared to make, however as the second substitute did not come until the 88th minute.
By that point, Crew SC were back in the lead. Meram scored the second Columbus goal in the 83rd minute, receiving a pass from Higuain to the left of goal and slotting an inch-perfect shot that threaded its way through a crowd and into the goal off the base of the far post. Meram’s goal was an effective response to Cedrick’s winner on Wednesday, putting the two players in tight competition for playing time on the left side of the Columbus midfield.
The closing minutes of the game were an exercise in futility for New York City. After being out possessed for most of the second half, they briefly enjoyed a 56/44 edge on the ball after falling behind but were still unable to create a dangerous scoring chance.
Columbus has now won two straight games, and three of their last four. The span includes two road victories – at Colorado and now New York City. In the last 13 games, the team has posted seven victories, four draws and only two losses. That pace of 1.9 points per game is slightly off the torrid finish to last season – which saw the team earn 2.1 points per game over the final 15 matches. Because this year’s team did not suffer through the same rough start, however, Crew SC are still five points ahead of where they were last year.
Crew SC now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points, three behind DC United with an equal number of games played. Lurking behind them, however, are the pair of New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC. New York, with 39 points, are two behind Columbus and five behind DC, but has played three fewer games than each. Toronto are lurking just behind, with 37 points earned and having two fewer games played than the top two teams.
The next game for Crew SC will be next Sunday, at home against FC Dallas. This will be followed by two road games at Philadelphia and DC United. Five of these final seven games of the 2015 season will come against Eastern Conference teams, including four with DC, New York and Toronto.
Timeline of events
3′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – headed clear)
5′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – cleared from goal mouth)
5′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – shot deflected out for corner)
6′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – headed clear by defense)
10′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – headed goal by Higuain)
10′ 1-0 Federico Higuain (Wil Trapp)
12′ Corner kick, New York City (left side – Villa shot saved by Clark)
15′ Corner kick, New York City (right side – short, cleared)
29′ 1-1 Andrew Jacobson (Patrick Mullins
31′ Corner kick, New York City (right side – punched by Clark)
37′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – headed clear by defense)
42′ Corner kick, Columbus (left side – long, no shot taken)
46′ Corner kick, New York City (right side – header by Mena wide)
51′ Corner kick, Columbus (left side – headed clear by defense)
57′ Justin Meram replaces Cedrick Mabwati
59′ Caution, Tony Tchani (dissent)
60′ Kwadwo Poku replaces Frank Lampard
63′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – taken quickly, out for goal kick)
68′ Tommy McNamara replaces Patrick Mullins
71′ Shay Facey replaces Jefferson Mena
82′ Caution, Kei Kamara (handling the ball)
83′ 2-1 Justin Meram (Federico Higuain)
88′ Mohammed Saeid replaces Federico Higuain
90′ Aaron Schoenfeld replaces Kei Kamara
91′ Corner kick, Columbus (left side – short, lost possession)
94′ Corner kick, New York City (right side – headed clear)
Columbus Crew SC
Steve Clark, Harrison Afful, Michael Parkhurst, Tyson Wahl, Waylon Francis, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain (Mohammed Saeid 88′), Cedrick Mabwati (Justin Meram 57′), Kei Kamara (Aaaron Schoenfeld 90′)
Brad Stuver, Hector Jimenez, Kevan George, Kristinn Steindorsson
New York City FC
Josh Saunders, Andoni Iraola, Jefferson Mena (Shay Facey 71′), Jason Hernandez, Angelino, Andrew Jacobson, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard (Kwadwo Poku 60′), Mix Diskerud, Patrick Mullins (Tommy McNamara 68′), David Villa
Ryan Meara, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Sebastian Velasquez