The Columbus Crew knew it had a difficult challenge ahead when the club traveled north to face Toronto FC without Federico Higuain.
That challenge got even tougher when the news broke shortly before kickoff that Wil Trapp, too, would miss the match due to a slight knee knock.
After all, Trapp and Higuain are often the heart of the Crew; they control the center of the field and the Black & Gold’s ball movement flows through them. Entering the match, the pair combined for 23% of Columbus’ total touches, evidence of their influence and the difficulty therein of having to go a match without both.
All week, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter talked about replacing Higuain, saying that he knew his team had players that “believe they can come in and do the job.” After being forced into replacing both Higuain and Trapp, it’s safe to say that the Crew boss knew what he was talking about. Despite the disappointing result, the individual performances of Agustin Viana, Ben Speas and Daniel Paladini should give the Crew confidence in its depth.
Paladini started in the attacking spot normally held by Higuain and even though the former Chicago Fire man has typically profiled in the holding midfielder mold for this squad, he created two of the club’s seven chances getting forward, leading the team in that regard.
Speas replaced Paladini in the 61st minute, making his 2014 debut, and less than five minutes later, he notched his first assist of the season and first point of any kind since March 23, 2013. Speas' ball was crossed in to Agustin Viana, who scored his first MLS goal in the process and might have been the most impressive of all.
Partnering alongside Tony Tchani in central midfield, Viana ranked second on the club in passes (59) and touches (75) despite coming off in the 73rd minute for Fifi Baiden, who made his club and League debut. The goal was phenomenal, to be sure, but Viana made an impact on this game just through influential movement in the center of the pitch, filling in for Trapp effectively.
Again, it’s not a result that the Crew are happy with —“It was a good opportunity for us to learn how to win, how to fight for each other and battle. I’m disappointed that we didn’t do it,” said Berhalter — but in a period where the Black & Gold are set to play three matches in the span of a week, depth is important, and tonight’s reinforcements showed they have something to offer this club moving forward.