FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Lalas Abubakar leapt to nod in an 85th-minute corner kick from Federico Higuain and lead Columbus Crew SC to a 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution Saturday night at rain-soaked Gillette Stadium.
Abubakar’s late goal extended the Crew’s unbeaten run to six games and put them seven points clear of the sixth-place Revolution, who have now lost twice at home this season.
“We always practice these kind of set pieces, so it wasn’t a surprise to any of us,” Abubakar said of his finish on the goal. “You just have to make the run. That’s what we do at practice. So you just have to execute it.
“It’s a group effort. We play together, we fight for each other. That’s the most important thing…We just fight together, because we know [the Revolution] are a very dangerous team.”
The match featured a prolonged midfield battle, in unceasing rain, as New England worked to convert off the high press.
But unlike previous games, the Revolution were without Diego Fagundez (suspension), who typically helps facilitate the high press with his quick tempo and precise passing in the attacking third.
New England coach Brad Friedel made a number of tactical changes to accommodate Fagundez’s absence and contain Columbus’ playmakers, Higuain and Gyasi Zardes.
The Revolution lined up in a 3-5-2 that featured five defenders: Chris Tierney, Andrew Farrell, Antonio Delamea, Jalil Anibaba and Brandon Bye. Kelyn Rowe played in the 10 role in place of Fagundez before being subbed off at halftime. Cristian Penilla alternated between playing on the wing and the 10 role as well, while Luis Caicedo and Scott Caldwell handled the center of the pitch.
“A number system is not a change of philosophy,” Friedel said. “We’re a high-pressing team and we press high. I thought it was a better formation to put out so we could match one-v-one against their players out on the field.
Said Caldwell: “I think we were a little sloppy on the ball, but in terms of the formation and being prepared to face this Columbus team, we were ready. We were able to switch the field plenty of times and create chances, just on both sides of the ball, that moment here and there when we have to be sharper, it wasn’t there.”
May 19, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Columbus Crew midfielder Artur (7) is upended by New England Revolution forward Teal Bunbury (10) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen extended his team’s shutout streak to 405 minutes without too much trouble, making six saves.
Teal Bunbury had a pair of first-half efforts blocked in the 2nd and 38th minutes, while Bye had a bid from 20 yards knocked clear in the 58th minute.
Additionally, Brian Wright, who entered in the 87th minute for Caldwell, had two efforts in second-half stoppage time saved by Steffen.
“We know their strengths and know they create goal scoring opportunities off pressing teams,” Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Our game plan was to avoid that and play in their half.
“We didn’t give them opportunities of pressing, and then they had to create by themselves. We did a good job, our defense, in limiting the creation part.”
Many in the announced 14,084 crowd thought the Revolution could steal a late goal shortly before the final whistle when Wright appeared to get clipped in the box, but referee Sorin Stoica didn’t stop play to award a penalty kick.
The referee’s decision didn’t sit well with Friedel, either.
“We lost on a set piece and a penalty that didn’t go our way,” Freidel said. “I watched it. It was a penalty.”