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The Crew: Pushing through the Playoffs

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Knockout Game

Thursday, November 1: 2(2) – 2(3) Win

Columbus Crew SC started their playoffs on a Thursday just four days after their final game of the regular season.  Due to a lackluster end to the season, Crew SC played the team currently ending their season on a hot streak and one of the Crew’s original rivals, DC United, in a knockout game away from home. 

If I had to pick a word to describe this game it was reminiscent.  It was reminiscent of the Crew’s knockout game in Atlanta last year.  It was a physical game.  It was a tough game, and it went to penalty kicks.

After 90’, the game was tied 1-1 on a DC goal from Brillant in the 21’ and a goal from Federico Higuain in the 30’.  In extra time, Higuain, typically a master with the ball at his feet, headed home a goal in the 96’.  Then, DC’s Nick DeLeon scored the tying goal off a poor clearance from the Crew in the 116’.  The game’s extra time ended in a 2-2 tie and proceeded to penalty kicks. 

Zack Steffen repeated his masterful performance during PKs last year in Atlanta, by blocking both Wayne Rooney’s and Luciano Acosta’s shots.  Gyasi Zardes’s shot was blocked by the DC keeper, and Patrick Mullins knocked his off the post.  The PKs ended, not by a Crew player shushing the crowd as Adam Jahn did last year in Atlanta, but as DeLeon, the hero of the extra time shot his PK over the net. 

Thoughts on this Game:

Pipa, who is fantastic much of the time anyway, has turned it up a notch in the playoffs scoring 3 goals (one a PK) in this match.  He definitely is showing his hunger for an MLS Cup. 

DC was a tough opponent, but we gifted them the two goals.  The first when Steffen allowed a cross to go through his fingertips and drop to Brillant and a poor clearance by Crew led to DC’s second goal.  We need to minimize these errors to keep moving forward in the playoffs.

My heart can’t handle these overtime, go to PKs, knockout away games against strong teams.  However, the Crew continues to win them. However, during this game what shocked me the most was when Gregg Berhalter was stopping a ball that had gone out of bounds and Acosta shoved and then tripped him.  Now, I’ve seen Berhalter do this in many games, but I’ve never seen a player respond in that way.  I don’t know if it resulted in any discipline for Acosta, but it should have.

Conference Semifinals—Leg 1

Sunday, November 4: 1-0 Win

Gregg Berhalter showed why he is being considered for the USMNT coaching position after the Crew’s 1-0 result against the Supporter’s Shield winners the New York Red Bulls.  

Again, the Crew were playing on shorter rest than their opponents—playing only 3 days after their lengthy game against DC.  Berhalter shifted his line-up from the DC game into a free-flowing 4-4-2.  Pipa started the game on the bench.  Patrick Mullins and Gyasi Zardes started up top, and rookie Luis Argudo started out right. 

While there were a few chances for both teams, the more memorable one in the first half was by the New York Red Bulls in the 27’.  The ball was headed off a corner, bounced off the post toward the goal line, went off the head of a diving Zack Steffen, and then traveled out of the goal area.  Despite the close chance for New York, the first half ended, 0-0.

In the second half, Pipa came off the bench, and the tempo of the game for Crew SC changed.  In the 59’, New York’s Daniel Royer had a breakaway that ended as Steffen ran 35 feet up the field to tackle Royer.   Then the Crew scored their goal in the 61’, and it was a thing of beauty.  Milton Valenzuela sent a ball across to Higuain who flicked the ball across to Zardes who finished off the shot.

Both keepers made important saves in the waning minutes of the game.  Luis Robles saved a hard shot from distance from Pedro Santos in the 89’, and Steffen made a fingertip save of a Bradley Wright-Phillips header in the 93’.  This final save sealed the 1-0 win for the Crew.

Thoughts on this Game:

In the playoff games played thus far, the Crew have shown why they should not be underestimated.  While they did not go into the playoffs on a winning streak as in years past, they have apparently found their playoff mojo.  They did a nice job minimizing the Red Bulls scoring threats.  If our defense can keep up the defense they showed in this game, the Crew can go deep into the playoffs. 

Today, it was announced that Zack Steffen was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.  While some other fans don’t seem happy with the result, I think he has definitely earned the accolades this year.  I’m not saying the other keepers didn’t deserve it—being a professional goalkeeper takes skills—I am proudly a fan of Steffen. 

Finally, it is clear that Gregg Berhalter’s meticulous strategizing brings positive results.  Let’s see those results continue this Sunday when the Crew take on the Red Bulls in the second leg of the Conference Semi-Finals.   

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Columbus Crew SC Playoff Bound

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Win

The game was about as shaky and unpredictable as the Ohio weather.  Columbus Crew SC took on the Minnesota United FC in the final game of the season in Columbus. 

Before the game, the sun shone down and prepared the teams and fans for a game that determined the Crew’s playoff possibilities. However, nine minutes in, Ohio weather being Ohio weather, decided to change tactics.  Lightning and rain caused a delay–foiling the MLS’ plan that all games end at the same time leaving every teams’ playoff fate unknown until the final minute of all those synchronized games.  Well, as MLS has learned this year, Columbus rarely does it the way they want us to.

After about an hour delay, the game resumed in the blustering wind, rain, and a significant temperature drop.  Crew SC jumped back into the match quickly with a short corner from Federico Higuain to Milton Valenzuela.  Valenzuela sent in a cross, which Gyasi Zardes headed into the goal in the 11’ of the game

In the 41’, a scary scene emerged, as Columbus Crew’s Gaston Sauro in an effort to stop a streaking Angelo Rodriguez, collided with keeper Zack Steffen leaving both Rodriguez and Steffen on the ground for several minutes with Rodriguez being subbed out.  Steffen returned to the match with a collective sigh of relief leaving all Crew fans.

The first half ended with Crew SC up 1-0 and a playoff spot clinched as the Montreal Impact lost to the New England Revolution.   Despite the guaranteed playoff spot, it was important for Crew SC to get the win as they have struggled to get results as of late and need to get into form if they want to go deep into the playoffs and make a run for the MLS Cup.

Gyasi Zardes scored quickly again in the second half slotting a ball in the 49’ after following up a free kick from Higuain that bounced off of Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but Minnesota had no desire to make this easy for the Crew.  Francisco Calvo, a Minnesota defender scored in the 68’ unmarked off a free kick, and again in the 77’, as a ball skipped between Harrison Afful’s legs right to Calvo.  Minnesota had evened up the score. 

However, Zardes decided that it was time to score his first career hat trick and scored the final goal of the night in the 83’ off a beautiful ball from Niko Hansen putting the Crew SC in fifth place.

Other thoughts:

I haven’t written a lot of articles this season about Crew SC.  First, I can’t watch away games at home due to some bizarre blackout rule that I have yet to figure out.  Second, my personal life outside of soccer has been a bit more crazy than normal.  And third, this was an emotionally hard season.  Due to the possibility of the Crew’s move to Austin, every game felt more emotionally draining than normal.  It was difficult to want to relive that in recaps and articles. 

However, it looks likely, due to a local ownership group that includes the Edwards and Haslam families, that Crew SC may remain in Columbus with Austin getting its own team.  Now until the final i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, I will not feel completely calm, but it helped me enjoy this game a lot more. 

Zardes scored his first professional hat trick in this game and ended the regular season with 19 goals.  I have a lot of respect for Sigi Schmid, but I’m not sure what he was thinking trying to play Gyasi at leftback last season when Zardes was with the Galaxy.  Gregg Berhalter has a proven system that helps make his forwards successful goal scorers. 

As this was the last regular season home game, it always makes me pause and wonder who we are possibly watching for the last time as a Crew SC player.  Will Steffen and Wil Trapp head to Europe?  Will Berhalter be named the new USMNT head coach?  The answers to these questions, for now, remain unknown but I am very thankful that these men have played a part in Columbus Crew SC history.

Typically, Crew SC is on a hot streak going into the playoffs.   This season, we have not seen this streak.  In fact, it’s been pretty much the opposite.  If Crew SC can’t find their top-level form and make the mistakes they made against Minnesota, their playoff run will be short-lived.

Let’s hope Crew SC bring their A-game against a very tough DC United team this Thursday in the playoff knockout game

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Columbus Crew SC v New York City FC

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, Sept 1: 2-1 Win

On Saturday in front of a home crowd of about 12,000 fans, Columbus Crew SC found their groove again that will hopefully continue on through the post-season and all the way to the MLS Cup, winning 2-1 against NYCFC. 

While Crew SC felt like the more dominant team for most of the first half with opportunities for goals for Justin Meram and Gyasi Zardes, the half ended in a 0-0 tie. 

Then in the 53’, NYCFC pulled ahead when Anton Tinnerholm hit the ball against Crew SC’s Lalas Abubakar.  The ball then bounced back off Tinnerholm to the feet of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi who put it in the net.

It wasn’t long before Crew SC struck back and did so in a short time span.  In the 61’, Frederico Higuain sent a ball to Harrison Afful who was outside the 18.  He shot the ball.  It bounced off an NYCFC player right back to Afful who took another rip at the ball.  Abubakar ducked out Afful’s rocket shot and the ball sailed into the bottom corner of the net past Sean Johnson.  The goal was very reminiscent of Wil Trapp’s goal a few weeks ago.

Then in the 63’, Justin Meram headed the ball in off a corner kick from Pedro Santos and celebrated his first goal since returning home to Columbus Crew SC by kissing the Columbus Crew SC badge on his jersey

At the game‘s end, Crew SC was still in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, but 3 points closer to NYCFC who sits in 3rd place. 

Other Thoughts:

I am excited for the return of Justin Meram, and this game illustrated why it is so good to have him back.  At the end of last season, Justin Meram requested to be traded from Columbus—partly due to the looming threat of a move to Austin and partly because he wanted to stretch himself professionally somewhere other than Columbus where he has been his whole career.  However, things didn’t go as well as Justin had hoped in Orlando, and there was an opportunity for him to return to Columbus. 

Watching Meram play his first full 90 minutes since coming back to Columbus, I’m reminded of what a dangerous threat he developed into as a player here—combining with other players, strong defending, taking players on as he attacked toward the goal, and taking dangerous shots.  We needed someone to lock down the left-wing position, and Meram has settled right back into where he belongs.  As he kissed the crest on his badge after his goal, I’m not going to lie, I got teary.

Pedro Santos has struggled this season, and many have found him a disappointment.  However, in the last few games and with Meram’s return, Santos seems to have found his footing.  He was involved in many dangerous passes that led to other player’s shots and had a few shots of his own.  For a player who I think may be more of an assist man than a shot guy, having Meram back, may have eased the burden and allows Santos to be the player that he is comfortable being.  Time will tell, but this fan is optimistic for what Santos can bring to the team. 

Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, and Zack Steffen have all been called up for USMNT friendlies on September 7th and 11th.  These are three players who are very deserving of call ups.  Zardes has proved that with the right team around him he is a dangerous scoring threat, scoring 15 goals thus far this season (and almost netting two more during this game).  Steffen, I believe, is the USMNT keeper of the future.  Wil Trapp is the cog of Crew SC’s midfield and can do this for the USMNT as well.

Finally, September 4th is a big day for the #SavetheCrew movement as the motion to dismiss that has been filed by PSV/MLS will be heard by a judge although it will not be likely ruled on for some time.  I encourage all fans to familiarize themselves with what Crew SC fans are going through as it could be happening to other teams in the not too distant future.  Visit savethecrew.com and learn more about the movement.

Crew SC will take on FC Dallas on Saturday, September 15th.  I’ll look forward to Crew SC’s continued momentum towards the playoffs.

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Columbus’ hometown hero

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, July 21: 3-2 Win

During a rain-delayed Saturday night, Columbus Crew SC took on Orlando City SC resulting in a very emotional night due to a Homegrown Hero. 

The game’s scoring began with Sacha Kljestan in the 16’ who essentially was unmarked on the back post. 

Then, in the middle of the first half, Crew SC took one of its 17 corner kicks of the night.  Jonathan Mensah tried to bicycle the ball into the net but instead kicked an Orlando City SC defender.  This resulted in the first brawl of the night with players on both sides shoving and trying to hold each other back. 

The first half ended with Orlando up 1-0. 

The second half started with Crew SC putting a goal in the net in the 51’.  Harrison Afful sent the ball down the sideline to Niko Hansen who put a lot of work into chasing the ball down to the end line and sending it across to Gyasi Zardes who put the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

Orlando did not wait long and scored again in the 58’.  Mensah got beat by the attacking Yoshimar Yotun who sent it to Kljestan who then flicked it across to Stefano Pinho who slotted it into the net.  There was a lot of argument from Crew SC on this goal as they felt Zardes was significantly fouled with the ball at the start of the play, so the play should not have progressed to the scoring sequence that it became.  Regardless of that perspective, Orlando was up 2-1 on Crew SC.

Officiating karma was going to swing back Crew SC’s way in the 86’ when Afful sent a cross into the box and Patrick Mullins, making his Crew SC debut after being picked up from DC United, was knocked down in the box while jumping for a header.  Just as Crew SC had an issue with Orlando’s second goal, Orlando was not happy with the call on the field.

Gyasi Zardes took the PK, and while the keeper went the correct way, the PK was just too well struck to be stopped.  Crew SC had tied the game in the 88’, and Zardes had scored his thirteenth goal of the season. 

The game looked as it would end in a tie until an unlikely hero would prove my prediction incorrect.  Homegrown captain Wil Trapp got a pass from Mike Grella and after two touches rocketed the ball from about 37 yards out into the top right corner of the net giving the team the lead and a pile of Crew SC players tackling Wil on the field.  It was a beautiful shot and up for MLS Goal of the Week.

The energy did not sizzle out then, but it did shortly after a second small fight broke out near the end of the game when Orlando players were trying to hurry up a Crew SC player who was down on the field.  But eventually, the ref’s final whistle blew, and Columbus Crew SC defeated Orlando City SC 3-2.

Other random thoughts:

At some point during the game, Josh Williams left one of the 17 corner kicks with a torn jersey right in the middle of the chest.  To say this game got chippy and physical might be an understatement.

With Berhalter at the helm, Crew SC typically rolls out a lineup of a 4-2-3-1 and an occasional 3-5-1-2 thrown in for some variety.  When Patrick Mullins entered the match in the 68’ for Luis Argudo, we saw about as close to a 4-4-2 as we have ever seen under Berhalter.  This gives the team another tool in its belt to use depending on the team they are playing.

Justin Meram who had been part of Crew SC since his rookie year was traded to Orlando City SC during the offseason partly due to his request to further his development somewhere else.  Meram’s had trouble finding his rhythm in Orlando and did not make the trip to Columbus this past weekend. 

Soon after the game, rumblings started that Meram had requested a trade back to Columbus.  The lack of wingers contributing to goals this season has been a problem for Crew SC, and I for one would love to see Meram come back to Columbus. I think not only does it help the team and Meram, but it will also help Pedro Santos who has struggled to find his groove this season.  With another winger like Meram for opponents to focus their attention on, Santos may be able to find firmer footing on the pitch.

Crew SC travel this upcoming Saturday to play the New York Red Bulls. 

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Crew SC Open Cup: Round 1

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Wednesday, June 6: 2(9)-2(10)

Columbus Crew SC took on the Chicago Fire Wednesday night in the first round of the US Open Cup.  Due to having three MLS games in twelve days, Crew SC rolled out a lot of reserve players.  But, I felt very confident that these reserve players could get a result.

Cristian Martinez opened the scoring up in the 10’ after receiving a beautiful pass from Niko Hansen.  While Crew SC didn’t dominate the half, it looked likely they would go in at halftime with the lead.  Nemanja Nikolic of the Chicago Fire had a different idea though and redirected a ball into the goal on a Rafael Ramos cross.  However, if Nikolic hadn’t finished it, Diego Campos was making a backdoor run unmarked and would’ve finished it instead.

Ending regulation time with a 1-1 tie, the game went into two fifteen-minute halves.  In the 109’, Nikolic struck again.  Aleksandar Katai chipped it over Crew SC keeper Logan Ketterer who got his hand on the ball but volleyed it behind him.  It was an easy finish for Nikolic who was waiting on the other side of the keeper. 

In the 114’, Adam Jahn leveled the score when Luis Argudo sent a short corner to Cristian Martinez.  Martinez sent a nice cross into the box that Adam Jahn headed into the net.

After extra time, the game went into penalty kicks.  I’ve seen my team’s playoff run ended by penalty kicks, and I’ve seen them advance on them as well.  But personally, I have never seen a game where penalty kicks go through the whole team and end up with the keepers taking PKs

Nemanja Nikolic who scored both of the Fire’s goals during the game clanged the crossbar to miss the first PK of the night.  Hector Jimenez took Crew SC’s second PK of the night, which was saved.  It continued with all other players making their PKs until it was down to Chicago’s keeper Richard Sanchez and Columbus’s keeper Logan Ketterer.  Ketterer’s shot wasn’t quite hard enough and was saved while Sanchez finished his shot to allow Chicago to advance in the Open Cup with a score of 2 (9)- 2 (10). 

A couple of thoughts about the match:

It was great to see Gaston Sauro on the pitch as this was his first game back at home since October 2016.  He has been recovering from injury and surgery which could have ended his soccer career.  I continue to look forward to Sauro making his way back into the starting lineup for Crew SC.

After Eduardo Sosa’s Crew SC debut as a substitute in last Saturday’s game against Toronto FC, he got the start and played the whole game in this match.  I continue to marvel at Gregg Berhalter’s ability to find young talent.  Between Argudo, Sosa, Valenzuela, and Opoku, Berhalter has a lot of young talented players that will make this Crew SC team a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

In all honesty, while I love the Open Cup, I also loathe it.  During the 2013 Open Cup, Eddie Gaven, my favorite Crew SC player, was injured and retired shortly after the 2013 season.  I still wonder to this day what might have been had he not been injured in this tournament. 

So, I am incredibly thrilled that none of our guys got hurt in the match and look forward to Crew SC’s upcoming MLS matches.

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

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Karma…works in Columbus Crew’s favor

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, June 2: 3-3 Draw

On Saturday, Columbus Crew SC took on Toronto FC for the Trillium Cup.  With Wil Trapp and Zach Steffen away on International duty, Jonathan Mensah and Pedro Santos out with injury, and Cristian Martinez out for disciplinary issues, Crew SC had Mike Grella and Niko Hansen start out on the wings, Ricardo Clark play in Wil Trapp’s spot, and Jon Kempin fill in for Steffen. 

Crew SC did not play a strong first 60 minutes.  Due to a foul in the 17’, Toronto earned a PK that Victor Vazquez buried.  Tosaint Ricketts, a first-half sub for Toronto, scored a goal in the 38’, and Sebastian Giovinco buried a free kick in the 57’.   Down 3-0, it didn’t look great for the black and gold, but this team has proven time and time again that it shouldn’t be counted out.

Last November during the playoffs against Toronto, Michael Bradley commented on the Crew’s possible move to Austin essentially saying that Columbus hasn’t kept up with the league.  Apparently, karma can come back to get you as Michael Bradley struggled in the last thirty minutes of the game resulting in a 3-3 tie and the Trillium Cup being given to Columbus.

The first goal came off a corner kick earned when Michael Bradley deflected a ball from Eduardo Sosa for a Crew SC corner.  Frederico Higuain sent in a ball that Gyasi Zardes headed into the goal.  Then, Crew SC earned a free kick that Higuain sent in, Josh Williams headed it across the goal.  Bradley brought it down, but Homegrown player Alex Crognale stepped up on the ball and shot it into the bottom corner of the net.  Then near the end of the game, Bradley hit the back of Zardes leg in the box—resulting in a PK that Higuain buried to tie the game in the 90’. 

Some thoughts about the game:

In the 62’, Gregg Berhalter decided to make all his substitutions at once sending in Eduardo Sosa for Hansen, Luis Argudo for Grella, and Alex Crognale for Abubakar.  I don’t know if I have ever seen this before, but all three subs definitely impacted the game in positive ways.

This was Sosa’s MLS debut, and I’ll be excited to see what the Higuain heir-apparent does with more minutes and more development.

If I haven’t said it before, I’m a huge fan of veteran Ricardo Clark.  This was a great offseason pickup by Gregg Berhalter. 

This Saturday, Crew SC face the New York Red Bulls.  Let’s see if Gregg Berhalter and his team can continue their unbeaten streak to nine games.

Featured image: Hilary

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Columbus Crew SC vs San Jose Earthquakes

 

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, April 28: 2-1 Win

On a cool April evening, Mapfre Stadium hosted a Superhero themed night.  Not only were the stands filled with superheroes, but a superhero was found on the field too—resulting in a Columbus Crew SC 2-1 victory over San Jose Earthquakes.   

Crew SC led off the scoring with a Harrison Afful goal from a Frederico Higuain assist in the 28’.  The Earthquakes didn’t let Columbus get too comfortable with the lead for very long.  In the 45’, Florian Jungwirth sent a ball across the field to a seemingly unmarked Danny Hoesen.  Hoesen buried a header past Zach Steffen who looked like he may have gotten hit by a villain’s freeze ray.  Although, I’m not sure there is much Steffen could have done to stop it.

In the 51’, it looked like Crew SC may have found their answer.  When Afful sent in a cross, Milton Valenzuela shot the ball, but an Earthquake defender blocked the ball.  It rebounded to Gyasi Zardes who took a shot, which seemed to hit the raised hands of the defender and deflected away.  Most fans and Crew SC players thought it should be a penalty kick.  Nothing was called, and the game continued.

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Milton Valenzuela image: Hilary @hils4crew

Mike Grella entered his first game for Crew SC in the 65’ after being picked up in the offseason. Grella hadn’t played in an MLS match since early 2017 due to a serious injury.   He has been working back from this injury and these were his first returning steps into an MLS game. 

What Grella didn’t tell his teammates and fans is that he had on his superhero cape.    In the 84’, Pedro Santos crossed the ball across to Grella who after a few quick touches buried the ball past the keeper at the near post earning Crew SC the win.    I don’t know if you can write a happier ending than that. 

Thoughts on the Game:

Earlier in the week, the club announced a contract extension for Higuain for next season.  Now, I’ve always been pretty vocal about how vital I think Pipa is for this team, but for the last few weeks, he has gotten several cards for dissent, kicked the sideboards, and yelled at some of his teammates pretty heatedly on the field.  This reminds me of Pipa from a few years back–not one I thought was playing the best soccer.  While I appreciate passion, I hope it doesn’t start to negatively impact his game.

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Pipa image: Hilary @hils4crew

In the last few weeks, Crew SC has significantly outshot its opponents.  While Crew SC is holding their opponents to very few shots, the problem is that the opponents’ shots are going in.  So, Columbus needs to figure out how to continue to limit their opponents’ shot opportunities while not allowing their limited shots to actually enter the goal.

I still feel this team is missing Justin Meram’s production and knowledge of his teammates’ tendencies.  Hopefully, Grella might develop into an answer to Meram’s absence.  I’m also a huge fan of our rookie left back Milton Valenzuela.  He is one to keep an eye on throughout the season if you haven’t already noticed him. 

This upcoming weekend, Crew SC travel across the country to play the Seattle Sounders.  Hopefully, the team will remember their superhero capes.

Featured image courtesy: Hilary

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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