Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
When the Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls met on Saturday evening, they were two Eastern Conference clubs heading in opposite directions.
Thanks to two goals from their star forward and some clutch saves from their fill-in goalkeeper, the Crew were able to flip the script on former Eastern Conference leaders New York.
In the first home match since their sale to Precourt Sports Ventures, the Crew defeated the Red Bulls 2-0 thanks to a second-half brace from Federico Higuain and a pair of major saves from Matt Lampson.
The Red Bulls, who were missing star forward Thierry Henry due to an inflamed Achilles tendon and head coach Mike Petke due to suspension, failed to take advantage of what few chances they had on Lampson’s goal on Saturday evening.
After spending most of the match out on the front foot, the Crew took the lead just after the hour mark on a questionable penalty decision. Higuain converted the penalty with a thunderous strike, but the Argentine forward opted to use some finesse on his goal 15 minutes later.
The Crew, desperate to end its three-match losing skid, started their control of the match from the opening whistle. The hosts forced New York goalkeeper Luis Robles to make a pair of early saves, and Jonny Steele’s block of a Justin Meram header at the half-hour served as the best chance of the opening 45 minutes.
Although Columbus continued its possession and shot advantage after the break, New York had the first big chance of the second half. In the 60th minute, Steele struck from outside the box on goal, but Lampson was there to deflect it off the crossbar.
On the ensuing possession, the Crew took advantage of the Lampson save with the opening goal.
Higuain slung a free kick into a crowded penalty area, where there was a heavy amount of contact as both sides went for the header. As the ball skipped past the end line, the Red Bulls defense turned to see referee Juan Guzman pointing to the spot. The foul was credited to defender Markus Holgersson for a shove on Chad Marshall, and Higuain thundered home the penalty try into the top of the net for the lead.
Thirteen minutes after Higuain’s conversion, the Red Bulls were close to an equalizer. But Lampson, who made his second straight start for the injured Andy Gruenebaum, denied Fabian Espindola’s header with a fine diving save.
And just like the first goal, the Crew found a goal seconds after their goalkeeper’s heroics. Midfielder Will Trapp delivered a through ball for a charging Higuain down the right flank, and the forward chipped a perfect shot on the run over Robles to make it 2-0.
The Red Bulls could not piece together an offensive response to Higuain’s second goal, giving the Crew three crucial points in their hunt for a playoff spot in the crowded Eastern Conference race.
Columbus (7-11-5) will stay at Crew Stadium next Saturday for a Trilium Cup match against Toronto FC. New York (11-8-5) returns to Red Bull Arena on the same day to take on Philadelphia.
Here are the match highlights: