When Dilly Duka, the Columbus Crew’s 22-year-old midfielder, was told last week of the team’s struggles on the West Coast, he said the young players in the locker room represented a new era and were looking forward to playing at San Jose and Seattle.
“I think we’re going to go out there flying” he said to MLSsoccer.com at the time.
Little did he know that it would be the youngsters who would be called upon to save the injury-ravaged Crew, taking four of a possible six points after a 2-0 win over the Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday just days after grabbing a 1-1 draw at San Jose.
It was only the team’s third victory in 17 West Coast games since 2009.
“We just came out and played,” second-year midfielder/forward Justin Meram said. “We haven’t been in this league much so we don’t really know the history so we don’t want to put too much into how many we won on the road or lost here.”
The Crew (4-4-3) beat the Sounders (7-3-2) for the first time after three ties and three losses, including a 6-2 drubbing on August 27 in their last visit.
“It was a great effort on everybody’s part,” defender Carlos Mendes said. “Anytime you come to Seattle and win it’s a confidence boost.”
After losing veteran central midfielder Milovan Mirosevic to injury against the Earthquakes on Saturday, longtime defensive midfielder Danny O’Rourke suffered an ankle injury in the 44th minute against Seattle.
Cole Grossman, making his first MLS start in just his fourth game, replaced Mirosevic and rookie Kevan George stepped in for O’Rourke, making his debut. By the end of the match, sophomore Bernardo Anor and third-year player Tony Tchani were also manning the midfield.
Then there was the third-year Duka connecting with Meram for the first goal in the 15th minute. Meram, who did not score last season, got his third goal in as many games with a header from six yards.
“When we come here with a team like we have, a lot of new players, they just want to stick together and prove that we are a decent team,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
A couple of “old” standbys made the lead stand. Emilio Rentería got his first goal of the season in the 76th minute on Columbus’ second shot of game with a looping half-volley from 30 yards, and Andy Gruenebaum tied his career-high for the second straight match with seven saves.
And like that, the Crew – young and old alike – are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.