The Crew put a stamp on the 2012 regular season on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 victory over rivals Toronto FC. Here are three things to take from the Black & Gold's season finale.
1. HIGUAÍN'S DOUBLE
Playmaker Federico Higuaín produced his second brace of the season to lead the Crew to the win. The Argentine's first goal came in the 17th minute as a deflected ball from the Toronto FC defense landed at Higuaín's feet. The forward took a touch to beat his defender, and placed a left-footed shot to the near post to beat TFC 'keeper Freddy Hall. Higuaín's second came just past the hour mark on a similar sequence, as the Argentine was pulled down in the box by Terry Dunfield to draw a penalty which he then converted.
Higuaín's effort propeled him to five goals and seven assists in just 12 matches since joining the Crew in August. The club's Designated Player hopes to carry that success into 2013.
"In my first twelve games I had the opportunity to get used to the speed of the League, the players and I’m happy about that," Higuaín said after the match. "I’m disappointed not to make the playoffs because that was the team’s goal, but next year I expect to have a better year and help the team make the playoffs."
Half the world away, Federico's younger brother Gonzalo scored twice in Real Madrid's 5-1 thrashing of RCD Mallorca. The two brothers' goals coincidentally came within minutes of each other Sunday afternoon.
"[Gonzalo] connects with the goal a lot more than I do," Higuaín said with a laugh through translator Ricardo Iribarren. "But I'm happy for both."
2. SPEAS DEBUT
Homegrown winger Ben Speas made his MLS debut on Sunday, earning the start on the left side of Robert Warzycha's midfield. The two-time NCAA Champion provided a threat in the Crew attack, getting off three shots and creating multiple chances from the left flank.
"I think he did well," Warzycha said of Speas postmatch. "He’s a player that you always have to be worried about. His dribbling is very good, he can go after defenders and create something. It was good to have him on the field, he deserved it."
"It was awesome, a dream come true," the Stow, Ohio native expressed. "I've been working for 17 years towards this day. It was everything I expected."
"I was confident in myself," Speas continued. "I just wanted to do what I do best, whether it's dribbling at guys or taking some shots. I knew that coming out of the game, or when the game is over, I wanted to make sure I had gotten some shots in at least and show what I could do."
3. LOOKING TO 2013
With the win, the 2012 Crew became the best team in MLS history not to qualify for the postseason with 52 points and a 15-12-7 record. The Black & Gold finished in sixth place on the Eastern Conference table, just one point behind the Houston Dynamo in the final playoff spot.
Despite missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the pieces are in place for success in 2013.
"It’s a competitive Eastern Conference this year," goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. "Sometimes it works out that way where you put up a good number [of points] and it’s not enough in one conference where it would have been enough in another [conference]. We just have to try and build for next year and we have a good result to build off of here tonight."
Warzycha added, "I think we are very disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs. I don’t think we can say that the season was successful because we didn’t make the playoffs, we didn’t win the [Lamar Hunt U.S.] Open Cup. But there were some positive things that happened this year. We have to look at the last year and fix [the problems] for next year, for the next season."