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Columbus Crew SC spoil New England Revolution home opener

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Gyasi Zardes and Zack Steffen helped Columbus Crew SC spoil the New England Revolution’s home opener on Saturday afternoon by taking a 2-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 13,808 at Gillette Stadium.

Zardes produced both goals, the first of which was a neatly finished header off an inch-perfect cross from the left flank by Pedro Santos in the 27th minute.

Columbus (1-0-1, 4 points) never looked back after that, but needed Steffen to make three saves, one of which was denying Diego Fagundez from the penalty spot midway through the second half.

Zardes tacked on another in second-half stoppage time to deliver New England its first loss in a home opener since 2006.

“Not aggressive enough on defense, and we didn’t move the ball quickly enough,” Revolution coach Brad Friedel said after the game.

“We had enough chances to score,” Friedel added. “On the penalty, it was a good save by Zack Steffen. But goals change games and if that goes in, you don’t know what happens.”

New England (0-1-1, 1 point) outshot the Crew 11-6, but the visitors were far more clinical.

Zardes opened his account for the season by slipping past Revolution defender Michael Mancienne in the heart of the box to rise and meet Pedro Santos’ cross. Zardes’ header then bounced off the turf and into the back of the net past Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton.

Mar 9, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; A general view of Gillette Stadium prior to a game between the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

“The ball was so perfect that I had no chance to jump,” Mancienne said. “It was inch-perfect to be honest. Great ball. Obviously, I’m gutted.”

Meanwhile, the Revolution struggled to engage attackers Juan Agudelo, Cristian Penilla, and Teal Bunbury. Columbus stifled New England’s attack in the first half by playing Wil Trapp, its captain and typically a deep-lying midfielder, closer to the center backs.

As a result, Friedel took off Penilla and Agudelo at halftime for Justin Rennicks and Fagundez, respectively. As part of the tactical switch, Fagundez went to the right flank and Bunbury played up top.

“I dropped between our center backs so it [was] 3-v-2 instead of 2-v-2, that way it’s not so man-oriented and we get more options off the ball” Trapp said. “In the first half, we were able to get [Carles] Gil and Agudelo to shift, then in the second half it was Gil and Bunbury.”

Though the halftime changes helped jump-start the Revolution’s attack, no singular switch was enough to beat Steffen, who secured his first clean sheet of the season.

Steffen was equal to a Fagundez free kick from 20 yards out in the 49th minute after Bunbury absorbed a foul just outside the box. Ten minutes later, he dropped right to deny Fagundez’s penalty kick, which referee David Gantar awarded after Gaston Sauro shoved Wilfried Zahibo in the area.

“Before the game, we had Penilla taking PKs, but Penilla came off at halftime, so it was Fagundez, Bunbury, [Mancienne] and Carles Gil,” Friedel said. “I imagine Carles would have taken it if he had been on the field.

“I never blame a player for missing a penalty. Diego felt he could score and Steffen made a great save.”

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