Different in look but synchronized in effort, the type of soccer played by Columbus Crew SC in its 2-0 shutout over Atlanta United FC was emblematic of a wholesome identity that goes beyond the tactical and the technical aspects.
“I think that we take a lot of confidence in that first half in how we played and how we jumped on them and got two goals. And again, in the second half was survival and I would say that we showed our character,” said head coach Caleb Porter.
In the first half of Saturday’s match, which endured record-setting rainfall, the Crew (3-1-1, 10 pts.) posted two goals on two shots, and with the addition of a few key defensive efforts – including a close-range diving save from Zack Steffen – Crew SC came out on the front foot.
“I thought we were excellent in that first half. I thought that there was a lot that we can pull from,” Porter said. “I thought [the first half] was a good performance; we were aggressive, we were attack-minded, and there were a lot of good plays. Both goals were excellent goals and we got the better of it.”
Pedro Santos scored his first goal of the 2019 campaign in the opening two minutes, the fastest team goal of the season, while Gyasi Zardes capped a 14-pass sequence with his team-leading third goal of the year. Notably, Zardes is tied atop the League for the highest shot conversion rate among players with at least seven shots, converting on 60 percent of his opportunities.
From a tactical standpoint, the lead-up to Zardes’ goal was the type of soccer that should be expected of this group, Porter explained.
“I think it was like 13, 14 passes that led to the goal. [I am] really pleased how we started the game, really pleased with the aggressiveness that we played with both sides of the ball,” Porter said. “That shows the mentality of this team and I think it shows our identity in our style of play in that sequence for the second goal.”
As the focus in the first 45 minutes fell on the soccer product, the final 45 showcased other aspects – ability to adjust, playing direct, mental fortitude – as both clubs dealt with harsh playing conditions.
“I would say that we showed our character [in the second half]. We showed our mentality and we showed that we can grind, and that we can play direct,” Porter said. ”I also take a lot from that second half in how we played because now it is about mentality. And our group showed a really great mentality.”
Atlanta managed 11 total shots in the second half in a match that, as Porter said afterwards, could have been 2-1 in the final minutes, but a cohesive effort paired with two saves and three blocked shots denied the defending MLS Cup champions.
Regardless, the win was again a building block as the Crew get set to host New England on Saturday, with the focus turning to not only repeating the quality but extending it – and this time hopefully in drier conditions, Porter said.
“We are definitely progressing as a team and we are showing the caliber and quality of football that we can play. We just need to do it for longer periods and hopefully we get the chance with a match that is not under water.”
Up next, Columbus continues its homestand against the New England Revolution on Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. Supporters can watch the match on FOX Sports Ohio, stream on FOX Sports GO, or listen on ESPN 1460 AM Columbus or www.ColumbusCrewSC.com (English & Spanish).