CARSON, Calif. -- Reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year Federico Higuain certainly appears primed for an even better sophomore campaign with the Columbus Crew, as the Argentine forward sparked his side to a thumping 3-0 victory over Chivas USA with a dazzling goal in Saturday night’s opener.
Higuain, who was superb following his in-season acquisition last year, hooked a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy from long range in the 51st minute. All Kennedy could do was turn around as the ball ricocheted off the post and into the net. Josh Williams doubled the lead with an acrobatic flick on a corner kick in the 88th minute and Dominic Oduro added another in stoppage time as the Crew spoiled new manager José Luis Sánchez Solá’s long-awaited debut in front of 7,121 at the Home Depot Center.
It was a tighter match than the score indicated. Juan Agudelo nearly scored the equalizer in the 72nd minute, but his turnaround strike sailed high, eliciting a little foot-stomping from Chelis on the bench. Three minutes later, defender Mario de Luna squandered a clear opportunity off a corner kick, and after that the Crew pulled away.
The score could have been far worse for Chivas USA if not for Kennedy’s effort in net. The veteran keeper posted four saves on the night.
Columbus nearly had a dream start to their season when Williams found himself open inside the box just 36 seconds into the match, but Kennedy made a sprawling stop of his right-footed shot inside the box.
The hosts, however, had a terrific opportunity to take the lead in the 28th minute. Giovani Casillas's feathered pass in behind the defense set forward Julio Morales in on a breakaway. Morales touched the ball around Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum then toppled over easily under Gruenebaum's challenge. Too easily, the referee decided, rejecting shouts for a penalty.
Chivas USA's Juan Agudelo, who was listed as “probable” in the pregame lineup, didn’t start due to a right foot contusion -- the same injury that bothered him much of training camp -- but the 20-year-old came on at halftime and provided some spark.
But Columbus's backline, led by veteran Chad Marshall and bolstered by impressive newcomer Glauber, turned in a smothering defensive effort that only one true chance all half.
Glauber was not alone as a Crew debutant. Oduro, defender Tyson Wahl, and midfielder Agustin Viana also appeared for the Black and Gold for the first time.
In all, seven of Chivas USA’s starters made their MLS debut, including defenders Joaquin Velazquez and Walter Vilchez, who played for Chelis at Mexican side Puebla. CD Guadalajara imports de Luna, Morales, Edgar Mejia and 19-year-old Casillas also debuted.
Saturday’s match was the clubs’ only scheduled meeting this year.
Columbus are on the road again next week, away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Mar. 9, while Chivas USA host FC Dallas on Mar. 10.