It ultimately took the final kick of the match on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium to decide a knotted affair between the Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew SC. For the second time, a Black & Gold player stepped up to the penalty spot to attempt the potential winning goal — and for the second time, they converted.
Gyasi Zardes buried the 94th minute spot kick to secure all three points for the home side, cementing his brace in his home debut. Federico Higuain scored his 50th career regular-season goal in Major League Soccer to open days' scoring, also from the spot, before Zardes added Crew SC's second before half time.
In just the 12th minute, Higuain stood poised to make individual history. Following a corner kick that saw Lalas Abubakar fouled inside the 6-yard box, the Argentine midfielder faced Montreal's Evan Bush from 12 yards away. He pocketed the dinked ball into the back of the net for his 50th career regular-season goal — the 32-year-old is now just one assist away from joining MLS's elite 50-goals/50-assists club.
He'd be the 19th player to join the exclusive attacking club, following reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri on August 12, 2017. Saturday's contest was Higuaín's 151st regular-season MLS match. Columbus legends Jeff Cunningham and Brian McBride are already on the list.
For the second time in as many weeks, Zardes followed a Higuain goal with one of his own. In the 15th minute, the Black & Gold's newest frontman found the ball at his feet just inches from the line. He tapped in the Pedro Santos free kick that was deflected off the crossbar for his second goal of the season in his second goal since Crew SC in the offseason.
Zardes' most impactful touch of the ball was also his last. Deep into the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, 2018 MLS SuperDraft selection Luis Argudo surged into the Montreal 18-yard box before seeing his run dismantled by Impact rookie Ken Krolicki. Zardes stepped up for the Club's second spot kick, 82 minutes after the first, and burst his blast into the top corner of the net.
Columbus travels to face the Philadelphia Union in another Eastern Conference showdown on March 17 at 2 p.m. ET before returning to MAPFRE Stadium on March 24 clash against D.C. United at 6 p.m. ET.
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 Santosadded 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.
- Forward Gyasi Zardes recorded a brace in today’s match, bringing his 2018 regular-season total to three goals in two matches. Zardes tallied Crew SC’s second goal in today’s match in the 15th minute, when he tapped in a deflection off the crossbar after Artur’s header. The forward struck again in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time, as he converted a penalty kick to score the game-winning goal for Crew SC. Zardes’ goals in today’s match brought him to 37 goals in MLS regular-season action since he joined the League in 2013. Additionally, per Elias Sports Bureau, Zardes is the first player in Crew SC history to score in each of his first two regular-season matches with the club.
- Midfielder Federico Higuain registered his second goal of the 2018 MLS regular season in today’s match against the Montreal Impact when he converted a penalty kick in the 12th minute. The goal marked his 50th regular-season tally for Crew SC since joining the club in 2012. In that time, Higuain has made 151 regular-season appearances (146 starts), scoring 50 goals and providing 49 assists. Should he provide one more assist in regular-season action, he would become the first player in Crew SC history to record 50 goals and 50 assists.
- Federico Higuain’s penalty kick goal against the Montreal Impact in today’s match was his 17th penalty kick goal in 24 attempts for Crew SC. The Argentine midfielder currently leads the Black & Gold in all-time penalty kick goals in regular-season action, ahead of Guillermo Barros Schelotto (13), Brian McBride (11) and Jeff Cunningham (eight).
- Zack Steffen recorded his second win of the 2018 regular season, as well as his 18th regular-season win with today’s 3-2 result against the Montreal Impact. Steffen made three saves and claimed one cross in today’s victory.
- The Black & Gold are on a 12-match,regular-season unbeaten streak, dating back to a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire on August 12, 2017. Since then, Columbus has posted a record of 8-0-4 in regular-season action, outscoring its opponents 24-11. Crew SC defeated Toronto FC in the first match of the 2018 regular season on March 3.
- Saturday's match was Crew SC’s 17th regular-season all-time match against Montreal Impact. With the win, Columbus brings its regular-season record against Montreal to 9-5-3, and 7-1-2 at home. The Black & Gold have outscored the Impact 29-24.in all-time regular-season matches since 2012 and are undefeated in its last three matches against Montreal with a record of 3-0-0.
- With the win in today’s match, Crew SC brings its 2018 regular-season record to 2-0-0. Next up, Crew SC travels to Talen Energy Stadium to take on the Philadelphia Union for the first of three regular-season meetings this year on Saturday, March 17 (2:00 p.m. ET / CW Columbus, Spectrum Sports, BCSN2, CD102.5 FM, English radio stream and Spanish audio broadcast available on ColumbusCrewSC.com).