HECTOR SETS THE TONE
Hector Jimenez earned a starting nod on the right flank and he made the play that set the tone and sent Crew SC on the path to victory. In the 10th minute, he intercepted a pass in the Seattle end, then won a slide tackle on the second ball. His slide knocked the ball to Federico Higuain, who then buried a shot into the side netting for a 1-0 Columbus lead.
“A play like that, you get a goal out of virtually nothing with a guy just competing, and it was great to see from Hector,” said Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “I think he played a great game.”
Defender Josh Williams said that the disruptive play Jimenez made to set up the goal is a regular point of emphasis from Berhalter.
“Gregg, more than any coach I’ve ever played for, puts so much pressure on the first 3-4 guys to set the tone on defense,” Williams said. “If they’re not performing, he’s yelling at them. It caught me off guard, initially, that he put so much pressure on the attacking guys to start the press. You see now, why. If we press them into some turnovers, we have the guys to punish them. It’s fun to be on the good side of that.”
A REBOUND FROM A BEATDOWN
Williams referred to the previous Friday’s loss in Toronto as “the 5-0 beatdown.”
It was the worst regular season loss in Crew SC history. Berhalter said he would learn a lot about his team based on how they responded, and all they did was become only the second Columbus team to bounce back from a loss of 3+ goals with a win by 3+ goals. (They did it for the first time ever last fall, losing 3-0 at D.C. United on September 28 and then beating Chicago 3-0 on October 1.)
So what changed?
“I think just having a clear understanding of what we needed to accomplish, and understanding that the last game we just didn’t get it done in the gritty moments,” said winger Ethan Finlay. “We shied away from the tackles in the moments that we needed to win them and they were just better on the day. The message to me after that game was that we can lose, but we can’t lose without giving everything we have.”
Jimenez definitely fit the bill in winning and re-winning the ball with the gritty tackle that led to the first goal. Working hard and having a short memory seemed to be the perfect elixir for the beatdown blues.
“That’s just this team’s mentality,” said Justin Meram, who guaranteed the victory and had a goal and an assist on the night. “Let go of Friday. It’s one of 34. You care, but what are you going to do? It’s over. It’s pro sports. You can’t change the result. You just come out on Wednesday and get a win and forget about it.”
THE DEFENSIVE MEETING
I hadn’t thought about it this way, but Williams said losing is such lopsided fashion can be liberating.
“To me, it’s almost a perfect opportunity,” he said. “5-0 … how much worst can it get?”
On Sunday, Berhalter and the rest of the coaching staff called a meeting with the defensive unit.
“We had a meeting with just the defense where we said it wasn’t good enough after a 5-0 beatdown.” Williams said. “The game in New England, we also let in some soft goals. Gregg pulled everyone together and said it wasn’t good enough and said if anyone had anything to add, to speak up. The coaches gave us the opportunity to speak up. Gregg said, ‘What can we do better for you guys?’ I thought that was big of him. Instead of placing the blame on us, he asked what we needed from them.”
To that end, in Wednesday’s postgame press conference, Berhalter publicly took some of the blame due to shifting lineups
“Part of that is on me in terms of mixing it up,” he said. “I think the backline does want continuity. I think that backlines that play together more often perform better, so part of that is on us and what we’ve been doing. We’ve had a congested schedule at times, we’ve had injuries at times, we’ve had suspensions at times, so that forced us to alter that back four. I think we are still looking for what I would call the ‘A’ formation, we haven’t found that yet, but in the meantime guys have done a good job of stepping up when called upon. I’ll single out a guy like Josh Williams, where we haven’t given up a goal with him on the field yet this year. He was brought in for a reason and he’s doing exactly that. I’m really happy with how that turned out and his attitude and effort.”
Regardless of inconsistent lineups, Williams said that among the defenders, they felt it came down to communication. Just as Berhalter singled out Williams for praise, Williams singled out Jonathan Mensah.
“Overall, we just decided it was time to come together as a unit,” Williams said. “Pretty much every game, we’re going to have the ball. That’s how we play. With that possession, how do we organize as a unit? How do we put out fires before they start? The whole week was every intense. Jonathan has so much experience, so we talked a lot. At points you just talk just to talk. It doesn’t even have to be very valuable. Just slide here or slide there, just so guys know where you’re at. I think we did a great job of that tonight. Jonathan was unbelievable positionally and he was loud and vocal and that helped win the game.”
MR. NUMBERS NERD: ZERO SHOTS ON GOAL EDITION
A lot of people asked me about the fact that Crew SC had zero shots on goal in the Toronto loss. Digging through old media guides, I have been able to piece together the full list. It was the eighth time in club history that Crew SC did not produce a shot on goal. On the bright side, the Toronto game negated Chicago’s majority in these instances. The vile Fire are now down to just 50 percent.
What’s weird is that there are two distinct clusters of events with a nine-year gap in the middle. It’s also counterintuitive that the vast majority of these events have taken place in eras when the Black & Gold have had a lot of offensive firepower.
05/25/97: at LA (1-0)
09/12/98: at NE (2-0)
06/09/01: at CHI (1-0)
03/23/02: vs CHI (2-0)
06/12/11: vs CHI (2-0)
04/20/13: at CHI (1-0)
04/11/15: at NE (0-0)
05/26/17: at TOR (5-0)
As you can see, it’s been an odd-year phenomenon this decade. The good news is that it’s now out of the way for 2017, so we’re in the clear for the rest of this year and all of next year. Watch out in 2019, though. One of those games is going to be a stinker.
MR. NUMBERS NERD: 40/40 EDITION
During Wednesday night’s goal-fest, Federico Higuain became the third member of Crew SC’s all-time 40/40 Club, joining Brian McBride and Jeff Cunningham as the only players to amass 40 goals and 40 assists while wearing the Black & Gold. Only 27 players in MLS history have hit the 40/40 mark regardless of club(s). Current Crew SC assistant coach Josh Wolff is among them. He had 80 goals and 49 assists in his career with Chicago, Kansas City, and D.C. United. He did not reach 40/40 with any of those clubs though. Only 17 players have reached 40/40 during their tenure at an MLS club, with New England’s Lee Nguyen joining Pipa on Wednesday night.
Higuain’s inclusion now means that Columbus is tied for the most 40/40 players with the LA Galaxy. Here is the breakdown of 40/40 players by club.
Jeff Cunningham (64/44)
Brian McBride (62/45)
Federico Higuain (44/40)
LA GALAXY (3)
Landon Donovan (113/107)
Robbie Keane (83/45)
Cobi Jones (70/91)
NEW ENGLAND (2)
Lee Nguyen (46/40)
Steve Ralston (42/73)
Jaime Moreno (131/102)
Jason Kreis (91/65)
Brad Davis (41/104)
Thierry Henry (51/42)
Sebastien Le Toux (50/50)
REAL SALT LAKE
Javier Morales (49/81)
Diego Valeri (43/46)
Ronald Cerritos (61/47)
That’s quite a list of players who are largely synonymous with their MLS clubs. (I mean in MLS. Thierry Henry is obviously most associated with Arsenal. Don’t twist my words!)
Of these 17 players, Higuain, Nguyen, and Valeri are active with their 40/40 teams, so the march to 50/50 is on. Landon Donovan (LA) and Jaime Moreno (DC) are 100/100 players at their clubs, Preki (SKC) is a 70/70 guy, Kreis (DAL) is a 60/60 guy, and Le Toux (PHI) is LITERALLY a 50/50 guy. And that’s the entire five-person list of 50/50 players for an MLS club.
Finlay said he thinks Higuain’s got 50 in him and that we’ll be talking about 50/50 sometime in the next year. If that comes to be, Pipa would be in some exceptionally exclusive company.