COLUMBUS, Ohio – No one was more relieved than defender Julius James to hear the final whistle Saturday, bringing the Columbus Crew's 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake to a close.
“It was the first game I’ve played in all year we won,” James said. “And we got the goose egg. I’m really happy that I was able to contribute.”
James (above) had played just two games previously after recovering from shoulder surgery and a collapsed lung. His first outing was a stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Dayton in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on May 29. He followed that with another 2-1 setback June 23 at Chicago.
It’s starting to come together for James and Columbus, who also saw the return of veteran holding midfielder Danny O’Rourke add stability against RSL.
“He can manage the game, especially at the end of the game, when you have to have somebody on the field with experience to step up and win the ball in the middle,” coach Robert Warzycha said of O’Rourke’s first appearance in four games.
While Andy Gruenebaum recorded his sixth shutout, Saturday’s was unlike the previous three in which he had to make six saves to preserve the zero on the scoreboard. He was forced into just two saves against RSL.
“I had not a lot to do, which was great,” he said. “We were very organized.”
The Crew are tied with Sporting Kansas City for the best defense in MLS (1.00 goals per game) and could be getting better with the expected return of center back Chad Marshall for Sunday’s match at Montreal.
Marshall, the MLS Defender of the Year in 2008 and ’09, had been out since suffering a concussion May 4 but played in Monday’s reserve match at New York.
Not all there
RSL head coach Jason Kreis wasn’t quite as upset about the fact the team hotel in Columbus lost power for 24 hours due to a severe windstorm last Friday as much as the possibility being raised Saturday morning that the match might be called because there was also no electricity at Crew Stadium.
Power was restored at the stadium late Saturday afternoon and kickoff was moved back an hour.
He blamed the Crew and MLS for not having a contingency plan.
“It’s too much uncertainty and a little bit of a lack of professionalism the way things were handled over the last 24 hours,” he said after the match. “It’s not good enough; it’s not professional enough to be going the whole day, ‘Are we playing? Are we not playing?’”
RSL captain Nat Borchers said that was not an excuse for the loss and Gruenebaum noted that he and many other Crew players had to deal with lost power (some will not get it back until at least Saturday).
“My wife and I were driving around, trying to find gas and buy groceries [before the game],” Gruenebaum said. “Everybody was a little out of their routine. We took advantage of a team that didn’t really look like they wanted to be out there.
“It was not the best circumstances for them. It showed a little bit.”