RECAP | Higuain, Zardes lead line in win over defending champions

Columbus Crew SC opened the 2018 Major League Soccer regular season against the same team that ended its 2017 playoff run: the eventual MLS Cup champion Toronto FC. But Saturday's season opener flipped the script on the current champions, thanks to a dominant defensive performance and goals by midfielder Federico Higuain and offseason addition Gyasi Zardes.

The two 2017 Eastern Conference finalists collided again at BMO Field in Toronto in a match that favored the hosts on paper. Entering Saturday, Crew SC has gone 1-3-1 against Toronto in the last five head-to-head matchups.

Chances came early for the Black & Gold, beginning in just the third minute when midfielder Cristian Martinez broke through the Reds' backline from the right side, blazing his cross just ahead of and over Zardes' run. After a succession of corner kicks in the ninth and 10th minutes, Martinez again sprinted into the Toronto 18-yard box, this time to ring his shot off the post. Pedro Santos added another shot in the 27th minute.

In his 150th MLS regular-season appearance, Higuain scored his 49th goal with Columbus — the first goal of the entire 2018 MLS season, and the eventual game-winner. Midfielder Artur connected with an end-line-bound Milton Valenzuela, who crossed the knee-high ball onto Higuain's volleying boot.

The assist marks Valenzuela's MLS and Crew SC debut.

Just 52 seconds into the second half, Zardes continued his out-of-this-world form by opening his Crew SC account off a perfectly timed and weighted ball by Santos. The Portuguese midfielder picked up the ball on the midfield line before charging forward and threading Toronto's centerbacks from 40 yards away. Zardes surged onto the entry ball and 1-touched it passed Alex Bono.

The majority of Toronto's possession and chances came in the second half as they pushed for goals, but Zack Steffen and the Crew SC backline scrambled to safety throughout.

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TEAM NOTES

  • Midfielder Federico Higuain registered his first goal of the 2018 MLS regular season in Saturday's match against Toronto FC. The Argentine volleyed a ball past Toronto’s Alex Bono in the 44th minute after receiving a cross from Milton Valenzuela to give the Black & Gold a 1-0 lead and, ultimately, three points. Since joining the club in 2012, Higuain has registered 49 goals and 49 assists in regular-season action. Should he score one more goal or provide one more assist in regular-season action, he would become the first player in Crew SC history to record 50 of each. Additionally, with his start in today’s match, Federico Higuain reached 150 regular-season appearances (145 starts), tying Ethan Finlay for ninth place in Crew SC’s list of most regular-season appearances in club history.
     
  • Forward Gyasi Zardes scored in his regular-season debut for Crew SC during Saturday's match, as he tallied the second goal for the Black & Gold in the 46th minute after receiving a pass from midfielder Pedro Santos. Zardes played the entire 90 minutes, registering three shots (one on target) and scoring one goal. The strike marked Zardes’s 35th goal in MLS regular-season action since he joined the League in 2013. Since 2013, he has made 132 regular-season appearances (117 starts).
     
  • Crew SC’s Young Designated Player, defender Milton Valenzuela, made his first regular-season appearance for Crew SC and in MLS in Saturday's match against Toronto FC. The Argentine started for the Black & Gold, providing the assist on Federico Higuain’s 44th-minute goal, a game-winning assist. Valenzuela also played 90 minutes, making 45 passes, registering two tackles and tallying one shot (one on target) while helping Crew SC earn a 2-0 win over the Reds. Valenzuela joined Crew SC in January of this year as the first Young Designated Player in club history.
     
  • Midfielder Wil Trapp made his 125th regular-season start (128th appearance) in Saturday's 2-0 win over Toronto FC. The Black & Gold captain led the Black & Gold with 67 passes, created three goal-scoring opportunities, registered five tackles and got 81 touches on the ball. Trapp’s three goal-scoring chances tied Cristian Martinez for the most goal-scoring chances created for the Black & Gold in today’s match.
     
  • Midfielder Artur made his 25th regular-season appearance (20th start) for the Black & Gold in Saturday's match at BMO Field. The Brazilian provided a secondary assist on Federico Higuain’s goal in the 44th minute, as he played a long ball to Milton Valenzuela who then crossed the ball to Higuain. In addition to providing a secondary assist, Artur played the full 90 minutes, making 64 passes, registering one shot and making eight tackles, more than anyone on either team.
     
  • Rookie midfielder Luis Argudo made his regular-season debut for the Black & Gold and MLS debut in Saturday's match against Toronto, coming in as a substitute for Pedro Santos in the 77th minute. Argudo, who was selected in the Third Round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, played 13 minutes, making four passes and getting six touches on the ball.
     
  • Zack Steffen recorded his 10th regular-season shutout in MLS action in Saturday's 2-0 win over Toronto FC. The goalkeeper made two saves and claimed two crosses en route to earning his first clean sheet of the 2018 MLS regular season.
     
  • Saturday's match was Crew SC’s 32nd regular-season all-time match against Toronto FC. With the win, Columbus brings its regular-season record against Toronto to 14-8-10. Additionally, in all-time regular-season matches, Crew SC has outscored the Reds 47-42 dating back to 2007.
     
  • With the win in Saturday's match, Crew SC brings its 2018 regular-season record to 1-0-0. Next up, Crew SC hosts the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium for the first of two regular-season meetings this year on Saturday, March 10 (1:00 p.m. ET / ABC-6, Spectrum Sports, BCSN2, CD102.5 FM, English radio stream and Spanish audio broadcast available on ColumbusCrewSC.com).
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