Columbus, Ohio (November 4, 2018) — Federico Higuain orchestrated a near instantaneous display of brilliance that helped his club take control of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Columbus Crew SC maestro assisted on a Gyasi Zardes second-half goal which proved the difference in the Black and Gold’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday. It gives them a narrow aggregate lead with the series moving to Red Bull Arena next week.
But the manner in which he pulled it off was superlatively eye-popping.
Gregg Berhalter made a few modifications to the starting XI from Thursday night’s knockout round win over D.C. United. Federico Higuain, who picked up a yellow card in the game, started on the bench. Patrick Mullins joined Gyasi Zardes in the lineup which gave the club a 4-4-2 shape. Gaston Sauro didn’t make the 18 after going 120 minutes in the knockout round, with Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams comprising the center back pairing.
Columbus earned a few chances early on but the most clear-cut opportunity to open the scoring came the Red Bulls way. In the 27th minute, center back Tim Parker redirected a corner towards goal with a powerful header. It glanced off the left crossbar and caromed in front of the goal mouth but Crew SC was able to clear so as to avoid going behind.
So. Close. pic.twitter.com/pucAGHvQDe
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) November 4, 2018
It was part of a mid-first half onslaught from the Red Bulls. The put a total of five shots at the Crew SC net from the 20th to the 32nd minute. But only one forced a save out of Zack Steffen.
It seemed fairly clear over the first 45 minutes that getting consistent chance creation was a major issue for Columbus. They managed just three key passes in the first half, none of which originated centrally. It necessitated Berhalter taking a bit of a gamble.
— John Bava III (@LWOSJohnBava) November 4, 2018
Right before the start of the second half, he subbed Higuain into the game in place of Mullins. And 16 minutes after coming on, he demonstrated how innately important his playmaking is to this club. His majestic back heel redirected a pass from left back Milton Valenzuela that came right to the feet of Gyasi Zardes who buried it past Luis Robles to put Columbus ahead.
Just. PURE. ?
— Columbus Crew SC #ClaimGlory (@ColumbusCrewSC) November 4, 2018
Higuain’s boundless energy was on display throughout his 45-minute stint on Sunday. He certainly needed to be on his best behavior given the fact he was on a caution. It was a risk Berhalter was willing to take to give his team, clearly starved of service, a chance to take an advantage heading into the second leg. Suffice it to say he hit blackjack.
But the Black and Gold weren’t out of the woods. The Red Bulls nearly equalized via a Bradley Wright-Phillips header in second-half stoppage time that would’ve given them a crucial away goal. But Steffen denied him with a fantastic reaction save to preserve the result.
These two sides meet once again next Sunday for the second leg. The match takes place at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ with kickoff time still to be determined.