Under a dreary and cloudy sky, the defending MLS champions, the Columbus Crew, took to the turf for their home opener against the Toronto Football Club. The mid-afternoon Saturday game, attended by 8,000+ Crew fans and 2000+ Toronto fans, was one of both opportunities and missed opportunities. Prior to the start, several plaques were unveiled, ranging from Fan Support awards to the MLS 2008 Championship plaque. It was nice to see such sportsmanship from the Toronto FC fans, as they seemed to appreciate the hard work that the Crew did to get these awards.
As the first of three games between these two clubs, everybody expected Saturday’s game to be a rip-roaring and exciting match up. The first 30 minutes, however, were far from that expectation. This first third of the game was characterized by missed passes, bad team play, and a general lazy, and sluggish, attitude. Both clubs were not able to control the ball, pass well, or even create many scoring opportunities. It seemed as though the defense, particularly Toronto’s Sam Cronin, who got his first start ever, was running the game.
That all changed, however, when in the 30th minute Toronto’s Kevin Harmse was called for a hand ball in the box. The Crew’s captain, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, stepped up, aimed for the left corner, and drove the ball above Toronto’s goalie, Stefan Frei. This was Schelotto’s second goal of the year, and there have been only two games so far! The 1-0 lead by the Crew fired up the supporters, and especially the team. Though they got several great opportunities, the best came in the 37th minute as several hard shots were taken on Toronto’s goal. Though a few were off target, one careened off of the post and the follow up was saved, seemingly impossibly, by Frei. During this save, however, Frei hurt his back; during halftime, Toronto was forced to sub in goalie Greg Sutton, who himself is injured with a dislocated finger, as Frei was too hurt to continue.
Though the Crew kept their fire alive during half time, Toronto FC also managed to light a flame under their team. Both teams came out playing hard and wanting the win. This caused an enjoyable and exciting second half, with both teams playing their hardest. Though control went back and forth for most of this half, both teams were passing well, controlling well, and getting good opportunities. Unlike the first 30 minutes, the two clubs actually seemed like they were playing a real game, and they were doing what they were supposed to.
This encouragement finally paid off for the Toronto fans, as in the 84th minute, a bizarre play occurred. Trying to protect their lead, Crew defender Gino Padula attempted to head a ball kicked by Toronto’s Dwayne De Rosario out of the back of the box. This header, though, was not high enough and it bounced off of the top goal post. Seeing that it would not clear the post, goalie William Hesmer jumped up to knock the ball over his net. He missed, the ball bounced off of the cross bar, and then promptly bounced off of Hesmer’s head and rolled into the goal. This bizarre and odd play caused the Crew to lose their lead and resulted in a 1-1 tie.
What Needs Improving
Though both teams played well during the last 60 minutes, the Crew seemed to struggle during the first 30 minutes. Frankly, it looked as though they were playing a scrimmage or practice match, and they were just sluggish. The players need to get out and get going much quicker, or they are going to get smashed in the upcoming games. Thankfully, Toronto was also playing with the same lack of enthusiasm, so it did not harm the Crew too much. Columbus needs to start off running, and keep it going all game long; a slow, gradual start to a game will take out the fans, and it will take out any desire to win.
Another area of improvement would be the control and team play of the Crew. Though it is hard to accurately pass when you expect a player to be moving faster then he was, the Crew was not playing a game of control. Far too often they were turning the ball over, or even just passing it straight out of bounds. This, frankly, should be unacceptable, and is something that the Crew really needs to work on. Against any other team, the multiple turnovers by Columbus should have caused a very lopsided turnout. This causes one to wonder, how badly will the Crew do with three of their starters currently gone?
Know Your Soccer
The Columbus Crew are the defending 2008 MLS Cup winners. Based out of Columbus, Ohio, the Crew play in the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Founded in 1996, the Crew don colors of black and gold and are known as “Americas Hardest Working Team.” For the franchise’s first three years, games were played at Ohio State University’s football stadium (the Horseshoe), though they are now played at Crew Stadium. The team’s main rivals are Toronto FC, The Chicago Fire, and DC United. The Crew is 166-165-67 all time and has won the Eastern Conference twice, the MLS Cup once, and the U.S. Open Cup once.
On Saturday, the 11th of April, the Columbus Crew (0-0-2) will be hosting Real Salt Lake (0-2-0). This is the first meeting of the season between these two soccer clubs.