COLUMBUS, Ohio – The best thing to happen to the Columbus Crew last week was also one of the worst moments for Olman Vargas, the Costa Rican forward who missed a chance to play for his national team in a friendly vs. Jamaica on Wednesday because of visa issues.
Vargas instead spent his time with his new Crew teammates and, to his credit, worked hard to integrate himself into the offensive schemes after playing tentatively off the bench in his Columbus debut during a 2-0 loss at Colorado on March 10.
He started this past Saturday against Montreal and his efforts were rewarded in the 66th minute, when his slicing run through the Impact defense enabled him to head a service by Shaun Francis for the insurance score of a 2-0 victory.
“That second goal was incredible,” Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said afterward. “That’s what we worked on all week. It was kind of like watching practice. It actually was one of the better goals I’ve seen.”
Not only did Vargas score in his home debut, but so did Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic on a penalty kick. It was a dream start for the Crew organization after being bashed the year before for numerous controversial personnel changes.
For one game, at least the supporters were supportive.
“I’m really happy because they both are very good players,” defender Sebastián Miranda said. “The people can enjoy them.”
With all of last week’s distractions now gone, the focus turns to the battle for the first XI.
Francis will face competition at left back from newcomer Nemanja Vukovic and Carlos Mendes. Dilly Duka also looks ready to reclaim the left midfield spot from Bernardo Anor after missing the Montreal match with a strained hamstring.
The toughest choice for Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha could be in goal, where Gruenebaum was outstanding against the Impact after a few gaffes in the season-opening loss at Colorado. Incumbent William Hesmer sprained his right ankle in the preseason but is poised to mount a challenge to reclaim his job.
By the Numbers
15 – The number of minutes Miranda sat after being replaced by defender Josh Williams in the 75th minute on Saturday. Miranda played all but 16 of 3,060 minutes in 2011.
2 – Starts for Gruenebaum this season, equaling his MLS total of last season.
0 – Goals allowed by the Crew in their past two home openers after losing by two goals on the road in the first matches of 2011 and ‘12.