Homegrown players Aaron Horton and Ben Speas scored late to lift the Crew to a 2-1 victory over Stoke City of the English Premier League in a friendly Tuesday before 8,976 fans at Crew Stadium.
Speas, who has yet to appear in an MLS game, found the game-winner just three minutes from time.
The Crew initially went with the same lineup that beat D.C. United 1-0 last Saturday except for captain Chad Marshall, who has a sprained right ankle. Julius James started in his stead at centerback.
Stoke had many of their regulars including forward Peter Crouch, midfielder Matthew Etherington and defender Robert Huth.
That familiarity paid off in the 23rd minute when Jonathan Walters gave them a 1-0 lead against the run of play. Columbus had more early chances but a season-long finishing problem continued to haunt them, leaving the door open for Stoke to show the home team how it’s done. They put the ball into the net when Ryan Shotton’s service from the right sideline enabled Walters to complete a near-post run with a sharp header.
While Stoke was clinical their execution, the Crew had three opportunities to score prior to that but showed why they are averaging only a game per game in MLS play through 18 game
First, Eddie Gaven broke down the left flank in the 14th minute but an unmarked Jairo Arrieta sent a header well out of play from 15 yards. Three minutes later Gaven again sent a cross into the box but goalkeeper Asmir Begovic grabbed the bouncer just before Justin Meram went for a touch.
Finally, Chris Birchall, the Stoke on Trent native who captained the Crew on this night, forced Begovic into a save with a 25-yard strike. The rebound came to Dilly Duka, but his shot was off target.
Duka had a much better try in the 38th minute with a rising 25-yarder that hit the crossbar.
The one negative on the night for the Crew was came in the 42nd minute when left back Nemanja Vukovic, who had entered in the 29th minute, appeared to suffer an Achilles injury and had to leave the match.
The Crew made massive changes to start the second half, subbing in nine players and Stoke started their liberal changes shortly after the break.
A lack of cohesion was obvious for both teams although the Crew managed to get close to scoring in the 54th minute as Aaron Schoenfeld sent a diving header spinning left of the target.
Seventeen minutes later Horton, with one league game under his belt, scored the tying goal. After continual misfires and misplays, the Crew finally found the equalizer as Emilio Renteria kept the ball from going over the end line, crossing for the oncoming youngster to make it 1-1.
They found the second 16 minutes after that. Speas scored on a strike from the top right corner of the box in the 87th minute after Renteria’s pass went off the foot of Schoenfeld only to fall perfectly for the rookie.
Columbus is 10-5-1 in international friendlies.
The Crew return to MLS play Saturday at Sporting Kansas City.
Stoke continues its tour Saturday against USL Pro side Orlando City and face Sporting on Aug. 1. The Potters’ first Premiership match is Aug. 18 vs. Reading.