It wasn’t the complete performance head coach Caleb Porter was looking for, but for that reason, Crew SC’s 1-0 win over FC Dallas was a glimpse into the variety the Club can deploy in order to churn out a win.
Saturday’s opening 45 minutes stood as the best half of Crew soccer to date, according to Porter, as Columbus edged Dallas in all major categories including shots, shots on target, duels won, and possession – all highlighted with an early set-piece goal by Gaston Sauro.
But it wasn’t just the early goal that stood out; it was the pace, the defensive bite, the spacing and width, among other things, and resultantly, the early game-changing goal manifested itself.
“Goals change games in soccer,” Porter said. “The percentages are pretty staggering around the world that you either win or draw when you get the first goal. Obviously, it is an important thing to do and it’s great to evolve. First game, we gave up the first goal and it’s great in the last two games to get the first goal and get two clean sheets. I thought without a shadow of a doubt, the first half was our best half in this early season.”
In the first half, the Crew (2-0-1, 7 pts.) held Dallas to zero shots on frame while posting three of their own in an all-around effort that saw consistent play between the boxes and a confident attitude within the respective 18-yard boxes.
Against the Red Bulls, success for Columbus lied between the boxes. Against, New England, it was what happened within them. On Saturday, the goal was to mix both, as supporters briefly saw a complete Crew identity that had a noticeably heavy presence in the attacking half of the field while letting Dallas linger in their own.
“It was good to see us getting back to playing the way that we want to play and executing on both sides of the ball,” Porter said. “We wanted to take the good play box-to-box, against New York where we had a lot of the ball, where we created good chances but we fell short in the boxes. We didn’t execute there but we wanted to mesh that we a good mentality in the defending that we showed versus New England, the opportunistic play in the boxes and I thought in the first half we saw that – the complete identity, that complete approach.”
Then, looking at the second half, the identity shifted from a total performance to a stout defensive showing, as Columbus withstood a Dallas team that continued to throw numbers forward in hopes of salvaging a road point.
“We’ve all seen games 1-0 that end up 1-1,” Porter said. “I thought our back four was fantastic. Jonah [Jonathan Mensah] and Gasty [Gaston Sauro] were beasts back there, heading things out. You always know at 1-0 there is going to be a push. They’re going to obviously throw numbers forward like they did and in a soccer game you’re going to have to make plays in the box and I thought out guys did and they showed a lot of mental toughness which is key. You have to have to be mentally tough, you have to be able to defend.”
But in a high-pressure style, Porter noted, where a majority of goals come in short spells of possession and quick transition, the defense ultimately starts with the front and that was an aspect the head coach was pleased with.
As the Club continues to search for consistency from start to finish in the final third, Saturday’s win was another example of a total effort despite the total identity.
“Everybody credits the goalkeeper or the backs for the clean sheets. Same thing, you always credit the strikers for scoring the goal but it’s a team thing,” Porter said.
“We saw that if you start trying to step too much, at the wrong times, they’ll play behind teams and I thought we really managed the defensive side extremely well. We pressed at times, if you saw, when it was on with goal kicks and they played negative but the rest of the game we were very compact and they didn’t break us down. Obviously late, there were a lot of crosses in the box. But yeah, it was a team, it’s always a team. You guys will credit the goalkeeper but I will credit the whole team.”
As the Club continues to play to its identity, midfielder Wil Trapp spoke after the game on the solid start, but how there's still another gear to be reached.
“I think we’re in a good moment, certainly, from the fact that we won at home, we got two shutouts in a row, but we want to continue to evolve and continue to push our level,” said midfielder Wil Trapp.”
“Each game is, ‘how can we improve upon the last one?’ Because every game is the most important game, and that’s the message that’s come from Caleb and I think it’s a good one. I think it’s one that’s centering us and focusing us each game day, and that was today.”
The Black & Gold (2-0-1, 7 pts.) head to Philadelphia on Saturday, March 23 to take on the Union at 7:30 p.m. ET. Supporters can watch the match on FOX Sports Ohio, stream on FOX Sports GO, or listen on 97.1 FM The Fan or www.ColumbusCrewSC.com (English & Spanish).