COLUMBUS, Ohio – The 2011 Crew probably wouldn't have been able to gut out a 1-0 win at Toronto, as this year's team did this past weekend. On the road last season, Columbus won just four of 17 games and often came unraveled at the end of matches.
Not this time, though. Bernardo Anor scored in the 56th minute at BMO Field on Saturday and, despite numerous challenges by the home side, the Crew have now split their first two away matches to improve to 2-1 overall.
“I think we could do a better job of keeping possession ourselves and playing smarter and keeping it in their end,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said afterward. “But I am very happy with the way the season is going so far and, hopefully, it can continue.”
Apart from the satisfaction of winning at Toronto, there’s also some doubt that defender Eric Gehrig could have handled the fill-in duty he found himself facing after an injury to Danny O’Rourke as a rookie in 2011. On Saturday, he was outstanding in helping Gruenebaum record his second straight shutout.
Much like his first career start at Vancouver last season, Gehrig learned four hours before the TFC match that he was starting for the injured O’Rourke.
“Last year,” Gehrig said, “I was more nervous.”
Partnering with Chad Marshall in the center of defense, Gehrig had his best game yet – locking down Toronto’s forwards in and around the penalty area, clearing the mistakes of others and earning the praise of coach Robert Warzycha.
“Obviously, he’s a great professional and it's very encouraging that we have players like this on the bench that can step anytime and have a great performance,” Warzycha said.
Another example of an area in which the Crew have improved is the fact that their big players are stepping up defensively in ways unseen last year.
Midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and forward Olman Vargas were brought in this offseason to produce goals but both hustled their tails off in front of the Crew goal to preserve the win, which came in contrast to the defensive liability Designated Player Andrés Mendoza posed last year.
Mirosevic, in particular, seemed determined to make amends for the penalty kick that Milos Kocic saved in the 42nd minute. It was his stripping of the ball that put Anor on a counterattack that led to the goal.
“Yeah, [Mirosevic] prefers to be an attacking player, but he’s one of those guys who will do whatever it takes to win,” Gruenebaum said. “He doesn’t care. He’ll slide tackle. … He’s a real leader in that midfield.”