It was a night of 2017 firsts for Columbus Crew SC on Saturday in the Nation's Capital. The Black & Gold claimed maximum points for the first time in the 2017 Major League Soccer regular season, off a converted spot kick in each half. Federico Higuain opened the scoring with his penalty kick in the 38th minute, and Ola Kamara scored his second goal of the season with a successful penalty of his own in the 66th minute to doom D.C. United in the 2-0 affair at RFK Stadium.
“It’s huge," Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the win. "We want to be a good road team and we want to be able to take our game to different cities and perform, and I think we did that tonight. I was pleased. We talked before the game about collective effort. We talked about working together for a common goal, and that winning the game, and we saw that. I was very pleased with them.”
Despite a formational shift and two personnel changes in the backline, Crew SC and goalkeeper Zack Steffen recorded its first clean sheet of 2017. Steffen's 90-minute, three-save performance stands as his first MLS victory and shutout. The 21-year-old has seven saves since taking over the starting job for Crew SC.
Columbus — pushing forward in an aggressive new-look 3-4-2-1 formation — peppered D.C. United with six shots on-goal, doubling the home side's total. Reinvigorated with the new shape, Higuain levied four of Crew SC's seven total shots — all on-target.
"We’ve been working on the new formation since preseason," Berhalter said. "We want to have an alternate system and we want to have a way to play against teams that are very good at serving balls into the penalty box, so we chose this way to play against D.C.”
He pushed the visitors into the lead just seven minutes before the intermission, beating a correctly guessing Bill Hamid with a coolly side-netting shot just inside the post. The penalty was originally called when Kamara beat his marker into the 18-yard box and was subsequently ridden to the ground.
Kamara doubled the lead nearly 30 minutes later after he was again hacked inside the box with a 1-v-1 with one of United's central defenders. This time he took his the spot kick, shooting right with speed, just beyond Hamid — who again guessed correctly. The conversion was Kamara's 18th goal in 28 MLS matches played.
“Running in the box makes opportunities," Kamara said after the match. "I had great passes come to me to get me there. I was taken down and Higuain had a penalty kick and took it well. Then in the second half, I got to take a penalty and it felt good.”
38' - CLB: Federico Higuain (Penalty kick)
66' - CLB: Ola Kamara (Penalty kick)
Crew SC saw two more 2017 debuts on Saturday at D.C. United. Homegrown Player and defender Alex Crognale made his MLS and Crew SC debut after signing with his hometown club in December, prior to the MLS SuperDraft. He played 90 minutes. Also debuting for Crew SC in the back was veteran defender Josh Williams, who also played the full match. Saturday was the Ohioan's first start in his second stint with Crew SC; he was selected by Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter in Stage Two the offseason's MLS Re-Entry Draft, signing with the club on January 5, 2017. He originally played in Columbus from 2010-14 before stops with NYCFC and Toronto FC.
As reported by MLSsoccer.com, Crew SC captain Wil Trapp is the League's first ever Homegrown Player to wear the captain's armband full-time.
Former University of Maryland standouts Zack Steffen and Alex Crognale, made their homecomings — sort of. The pair of Terapins called College Park, Maryland, home while playing NCAA soccer together just half an hour away from RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Both played the full 90 minutes on Saturday.