COLUMBUS, Ohio- The Columbus Crew played their first US Open Cup match of the season against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and emerged victorious with a final score line of 1-0. It was a needed win for the Crew, who have struggled with results and injuries in league play this year.
2019 has been devoid of many bright spots for Columbus. After saving the team from relocation, on field performance has not been up to par with recent squads. When Caleb Porter was hired as head coach in the offseason, he promised to go after every trophy, including the Open Cup, and the lineup tonight reflected that.
Every available starter did indeed start the match for the Crew. This was a huge change from the prior regime, when Gregg Berhalter used the Open Cup almost solely for development for backup players.
“I don’t know what happened in years past, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t try to win every game you play. We try to win every game we play. You only have three opportunities to win a trophy. We don’t ever try to not win a game or a trophy,” Porter said.
Despite Porter taking the game seriously, Columbus was still missing players due to injuries and international call ups. Zack Steffen, Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, and Jonathan Mensah were all with their respective national teams. Federico Higuain, Waylon Francis, and Josh Williams were out with injuries. But the healthy players did their jobs.
The first half was ugly, with neither team playing very well. Columbus dominated possession but couldn’t create any serious chances. Pittsburgh had two excellent looks, one from a foul just outside the box, and one when Afful slipped and fell allowing a one-on-one chance, but couldn’t convert either opportunity.
In the second half, the Crew turned things up a notch. David Accam scored in the 55th minute off an assist from Pedro Santos to give Columbus the lead. It’s the first career goal for Accam in Columbus, and his seventh career goal in the Open Cup. He was the tournament’s leading scorer in 2016 with five total goals.
“It feels great to get a winner today,” Accam said, “for us we just wanted to win the game and I am happy to contribute…[the ball] from Pedro was amazing. We’ve tried that many times, but today’s ball was perfect.”
After getting the goal, Columbus was able to clamp down defensively and held the Riverhounds to just one total shot, with no shots on goal.
“We talked about getting back to being a good defensive team and taking pride in clean sheets,” Porter said, “I told the guys I’d buy them dinner if they got a clean sheet, the back four.”
Centerback Gaston Sauro confirmed that Porter promised the men dinner, and said they need to go to a steakhouse. “No Chipotle. Nothing cheap.”
Sauro also joked that the Columbus defensive improvement was due to Zack Steffen being gone with the national team. “We are feeling better now that Zack Steffen is not here,” Sauro said with a smile before continuing, “no, for us, it is important to get the confidence and I hope we can repeat this next game…I’ll go home happy because of the clean sheet.”
The Crew nearly added a second goal in the 68th minute when Mullins was taken down in the box by Tobi Adewole, but Santos hit the ensuing penalty kick off the crossbar. After putting up six shots in the first half with just one on target, Columbus had 11 second half attempts, with three on target.
The Crew do not yet know who their opponent in the fifth round of the Open Cup will be. The draw to determine the bracket for the remainder of the tournament will be held on Thursday. The draw is regionally based, meaning Columbus will be likely to play a team close to them. This is the first time Columbus has advanced to the fifth round of the tournament since 2016. They have not advanced past that since making the final in 2010.