Columbus Crew SC has found a new strength between attackers and playmakers -- its defense. The Black & Gold have not allowed a goal in 315 minutes of play, securing three consecutive shutouts over three matches in just eight days-- something Crew SC has not been able to do since 2011.
Each game saw a different lineup and variation, with forward Gyasi Zardes being the only consistent starter in all three games. Midfielders Artur, Ricardo Clark and Wil Trapp took turns in the Starting XI in the last three games to uphold Columbus’ flow and attacking style while its defense continued to strengthen.
Columbus started out the week on the road against Seattle. After a Pedro Santos red card early in the game, Columbus was limited to a 10-man team for nearly 75 minutes. Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter adjusted with a strong defensive presence, bringing on defender Alex Crognale in place of Cristian Martinez.
The major factor in Columbus returning from Seattle with a point was found in defender Lalas Abubakar. The center back solidified the backline and produced a vital goal-line clearance to deny Seattle striker Will Bruin. Abubakar played the full 90 minutes and finished with six interceptions, four clearances and 25 successful passes. The defensive performance against Seattle landed Abubakar and defender Milton Valenzuela on MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week. Valenzuela finished against Seattle with six interceptions, four tackles, 25 successful passes and one shot from inside the box.
An experienced player in the defensive position, Harrison Afful is one of the older Crew SC starters and a leader eager for success. The defender has registered 10 shots over the last five games for Crew SC, while still managing to keep up with his defensive duties. Although Afful has hit the post on a few occasions, he nailed his first goal of the 2018 regular season against San Jose on April 28. Afful found the back of the net on a pass from Federico Higuain with a roof-of-the-net bound rocket.
In all, Columbus has recorded five shutouts in the 2018 regular season while goalkeeper Zack Steffen has 20 saves on record. Most recently, Steffen was named to MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week in Week 11 alongside Gyasi Zardes and Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. According to Berhalter, his team is defending as one cohesive unit which makes the game difficult on any opponent.
“I think the group has gotten to a place where they understand defending is about 11 guys, and that’s the most important thing,” Berhalter said, “We want to press together as a unit, we want to be compact as a team — and when we can do that it is very difficult to create goal scoring opportunities against us.”
Next up, Crew SC travels to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution on Saturday May 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET.