May has been kind to Columbus Crew SC.
Playing their third game in eight days, Columbus smothered the Chicago Fire 3-0. The win caps off a number of superlatives for the club to start the month: they are undefeated through five games, have three straight shutouts for the first time since April 2011, and haven’t allowed a goal in the last 315 minutes.
Crew SC currently lead the league in shutouts, while also boasting golden boot leader Gyasi Zardes. His brace tonight brings his season total to a league-leading eight goals.
The first Columbus goal came after Kevin Ellis took down Zardes in the box in the 28th minute. Federico Higuain took the penalty kick, blasting the ball into the top of the net for the lead. The next two goals came in the second half.
First, Niko Hansen bypassed multiple defenders and kept the ball inbounds to cross an easy tap in to Zardes in the 50th minute. Then in the 70th, Mike Grella (making his first start for the team) played a picture-perfect dummy, allowing Zardes to blast in his second goal of the night. Ricardo Clark and Hector Jimenez recorded assists.
Zardes praised his teammates over himself in both goals.
“[Hansen] got past the first guy, and he just kept running. I was hanging out for a little bit, then when I saw him beat those guys and keep running, I just thought, ‘Get to the box, get to the box,'” Zardes said, “[Grella] is amazing. He’s such a smart player. He’s a veteran, he knows players are behind him. He saw me before I saw him.”
Already having the second best season of his career, Zardes also praised the coaches.
“I love this system. I’m constantly progressing each and every single week, and i’m constantly listening to the coaches. They’re masterminds, and I’m just trying to become a better player,” Zardes said.
May 12, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC forward Mike Grella (13) and Chicago Fire midfielder Dax McCarty (6) fight for the ball at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
“This was a good performance tonight, top to bottom,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said, “when you lose three games in a row, your confidence goes down. Step by step we wanted to slowly bring this group back.”
Not everything worked out well for Columbus tonight. Pedro Santos was injured almost immediately. Mere seconds after kickoff, completely untouched, Santos pulled up holding his hamstring, causing a near immediate substitution.
“He has some hamstring tightness. We’re going to have to get him checked,” Berhalter said of Santos, who was replaced in the match by Hansen. “It’s not ideal to have to substitute a guy in the first minute of the game.”
Crew SC will attempt to keep the magic going on the road next week against the New England Revolution. It’s the second meeting of the year between the two teams, and the 2-2 draw on April 21st was the game that started the streak Columbus currently enjoys.