Wednesday's 2-1 win over Minnesota featured a little bit of everything about this Columbus Crew side, and then some.
There were a number of individual performances, led most notably by Pedro Santos's no-angle goal, while conversely, the Crew showed patience in the build-up and its ability to quickly shift the point of attack with an impressive 17-pass team goal.
As Columbus's veteran frontline in Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan, and Santos made their presence felt early and often, Head Coach Caleb Porter didn't hesitate to call on Homegrown Sebastian Berhalter to replace midfielder Fatai Alashe, who subbed off early in the 19th minute. It was the 19-year-old's second-longest appearance of the season after playing a full 90 minutes back on Aug. 24 at New York City FC.
While Porter spoke highly of the attacking core, and for good reason, defensively, the Crew allowed one shot on target per half while controlling nearly 58-percent of the possession. There was even a taste of flukiness inherent in the game which led to a scoreline that, as Porter mentioned, was not necessarily representative of how the game played out.
However, what the game did showcase, Porter said, was that as impressive as the team's defensive numbers have been (nine shutouts, five goals conceded, a plus-17 goal differential), the attack is becoming one of the most dynamic in the League.
"Our defending has gotten a lot of talk, and yet, I think quietly, we're becoming one of the best attacking teams in the League. You saw that on the first goal, it's one of the best team goals we’ve scored this year."
In the opening goal, you see the play really start with a through-ball from Artur, who dropped back amongst the backline before hitting Harrison Afful way up along the far flank. Then, Zelarayan didn't force the issue and dropped it back before a few quick swings eventually found Santos in space.
With the defense stretched, the Portuguese midfielder didn't show one hint of hesitation, and after a quick shoulder glance, Santos swung in a perfect ball.
"[The goal was an] unbelievable sequence. There was a lot of control in the front half which is a phase of play we always work on and talk about. And, just the purpose in that phase and how we broke them down. We've improved a lot in that area," Porter said.
Key to the start of that build-up was Artur, who spoke on how that first goal was an example of their training sessions translating to matchday.
"I think we did well what we have been practicing, which is moving the ball side to side quick and since we have good players in the middle offensively, they’re going to close it," Artur said. "So, we have to switch the game fast, and we’re going to find the spaces. I think we just tried to do that and I think every time we did that well, we created something."
Porter commended both the growing chemistry between Zelarayan and Santos, as well as their individuality, as they have combined for 10 assists and eight goals on the season. Notably, Santos has recorded a goal or an assist in each of the last fives games.
But what also stood out on Wednesday was the interplay between the speed of Luis Diaz, the creativity of Santos and Zelarayan, and the consistent threat Zardes poses up top.
"That front four, when you put it all together the right way, you get great pace and power from Luis. He got in great spots, he opened the game up with the width and length, which is really important, and that sets up the space for Pedro and Lucas to be able to work those pockets in front of the back four and to be clever and creative," Porter said.
pura vida 🤙 pic.twitter.com/nzNhzoj41S— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) September 24, 2020
Admittedly "pretty comfy" in a match that should've been out of reach for the Loons, Porter commented, Minnesota did get within a goal and was just an offside call away from stealing a late road point. And yet, it all still ended with another win – one that featured patience, pressing, opportunism, defense, and of course, enough grit to seal all three points.
"We controlled large periods of the match; we had a lot of chances. At 2-0, we could have easily gotten the third, the fourth [goal], you know? But this is football," Porter said.
"It’s one of the things we always talk about: when you least expect it you have a storm, you have something that pops up and the game changes and that's exactly what happened. ... And now all of a sudden the game changes. We go from being 2-0, could be 3-0 and comfy, to now it's nervy. And I'm just really pleased that we were able to still grind out the three points."