Steffen, re-worked back line record clean sheet for Crew SC

COLUMBUS – Columbus Crew SC and goalkeeper Zack Steffen recorded the third clean sheet of the 2017 Major League Soccer regular season Saturday night in a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution. A back line that only possessed seven combined starts on the season coming into the match thwarted each and every attempt by the Revs.

The victorious Crew SC back line included the likes of Hector Jimenez, Josh Williams, Jonathan Mensah and Waylon Francis. Nicolai Naess, usually a forgone conclusion at center back, moved up and started the match in the midfield next to Crew SC Captain and midfielder Wil Trapp.

“We made some changes in the lineup, and this was the first time this back four has ever played together,” Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said following the match. “I thought they held firm, together with Zack they did a good job.”

Saturday’s match marked Williams’ 75th career appearance in the regular season for the Black & Gold. The Northeast Ohio-native veteran from Copley stepped up and recorded nine interceptions, four headed clearances and won two aerial duels. The defender received praise for his performance in his second start of the season.

“Josh is a guy that’s been solid all year, and we brought him here for a reason that he could play an important role in what we do,” Berhalter said. “Today was an example of him having an excellent game.”

Jimenez also recorded his second start of the season after replacing Harrison Afful, who was excused from the game to spend time with his family and newborn son. Jimenez made three interceptions and 25 passes on the opposition’s half in the match. Berhalter was impressed with Jimenez and his ability to step in.

“A big part of our success this year is going to be dictated by guys who can come in and do a job for us,” Berhalter said. “We need depth. When you bring guys like Hector in, like Josh Williams and can get wins, it means a lot.”

Francis was a part of securing the ball on defense that eventually led to the first goal of the game by Ola Kamara in the 13th minute. The 26-year-old defender from Costa Rica took advantage of his spot start in the match.

“I thought Waylon was good,” Berhalter said. “He’s been fighting for playing time and we told him to stay positive and keep working and I thought he had a good game. Just good energy, great work rate, I was happy with his game.”

Mensah, in his second game back from injury after missing four games due to a right thigh strain, stuffed the stat sheet with seven interceptions, four clearances headed and three tackles won.

Steffen entered the match third in Major League Soccer in saves and second in terms of number of shots and shots on target faced. The goalkeeper, who recorded five saves and caught four crosses in the shutout, spoke on the performance of the back four as a whole following the match.

“I think they were all great,” Steffen said. “They all worked really hard from the first minute until the last minute and they were communicating, they were connected and they were leaving it all out on the field and that’s what we need to win games.”

Naess started and played all 90 minutes in front of Steffen at centerback for each of the first eight games of the season for Crew SC before moving to the midfield against New England. Steffen understood the change and was happy with the defender’s 67-successful-pass performance.

“I thought he played well in the midfield,” Steffen said. “I thought the switches were on and he distributed it very well switching the field. I thought he came in and did very well, did his role, and it was a little different having him in an advanced role but I’m still glad he was out there.”

The Black & Gold will remain home at MAPFRE Stadium for a quick turnaround as they face Toronto FC on Wednesday May 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET in the second leg of the Trillium Cup.

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