The Crew extended its unbeaten streak to five matches with Saturday's 2-1 extinguishing of the Chicago Fire. Here are three reasons why the Black & Gold were successful against its Eastern Conference rival:
1. GAVEN GOING FORWARD
For the second straight match, Crew head coach Robert Warzycha elected to start Eddie Gaven up top to support Emilio Renteria as a free-roaming supporting striker. Gaven's ability to dribble at defenders and get out wide to either flank when needed has been a key part of the Crew's recent success.
Warzycha's decision paid off in the ninth minute as Gaven found space to fire a low driven shot from the corner of the penalty area to beat Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson on the near post for the Crew's first strike of the evening.
Later in the first half, it was Gaven providing a well-timed cross into the box to Renteria, whose strength knocked Chicago center back Austin Berry to the ground to make it an easy second tally for the Black & Gold.
While Gaven playing forward likely isn't a long-term solution for the Crew as the team awaits the arrival of new signing Jairo Arrieta and Ethan Finlay, Olman Vargas, Aaron Schoenfeld, and Ben Speas near their return from injury, the 25-year-old has stepped up in Columbus' time of need.
2. GEORGE MANNING THE MIDFIELD
Unlike his professional debut in Wednesday's win in Seattle, rookie Kevan George admitted after the game he was nervous to make his first career start on Saturday.
"It was very nerve-racking at first because, unlike the Seattle game which I didn't know I was going to go in, today I knew I was going to start," the rookie midfielder explained after the match. "When I got settled in, the guys like Eddie Gaven and (Tony) Tchani, they just told me to settle down and play my game. That's exactly what I did and the game just came to me."
The Trinidad & Tobago native started in place of the injured Danny O'Rourke and showed why Warzycha and Brian Bliss took the University of Central Florida product with the Crew's second pick in the MLS SuperDraft back in January. George went the full 90 minutes for the Black & Gold, completing 32 passes while only missing his target four times.
3. "WEATHERING THE STORM"
The Crew fended off a second half onslaught from the Fire to hold on to the victory. Unlike in San Jose when the Black & Gold dropped two points as Earthquakes' striker Alan Gordon scored in stoppage time to hand the Crew a 1-1 draw, Columbus withstood Chicago's attack to come away with three points on Saturday night and move into a tie for fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
"We made it interesting on ourselves," goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said after the match. "We've got to find a better way to close things out. We scored a couple of goals, timely goals. Goals change games and we made it difficult on them, but in the second half we had to weather the storm. I keep saying we have to weather storms. That's the case sometimes. We were able to do that and get a positive result."
Gruenebaum also hinted that maybe the Crew became too relaxed with a two goal lead at the half.
"They say a two goal lead is the most dangerous in sports, and really you can see why. Maybe that was the case. Maybe it's a combination of that and we were just tired. Either way, we've got to gut it out. 45 minutes to go, we've got to be able to put that team away without all the issues we had. We like to make it dramatic," Gruenebaum finished.