Given how Gregg Berhalter reacted to last week’s loss, noting he needed more from four or five players in his lineup, Columbus were setup for a make-or-break moment this weekend. Either the Crew would respond to their coach’s implied challenge or accept what they had become: A team that’s failed to recapture March’s promise.
In case the headline leaves any doubt, the former came out at Crew Stadium today. Against what’s been the strongest team in the league (at least, over the last few weeks), Columbus gave one of its most impressive performances of the season. Thanks to two goals on each side of halftime, the Crew beat the LA Galaxy 4-1, assuming fourth place in the Eastern Conference in the process.
Justin Meram opened the scoring 23 minutes in, turning onto his right foot to put a shot from just outside the area inside Jaime Penedo’s left post. Ten minutes later, Columbus had taken apart LA’s defense once more, with Ethan Finley finishing from the left of the penalty area.
Gyasi Zardes’s 10th goal of the season brought LA within one in the 49th minute, but an easy goal for Ben Speas in the 75th restored Columbus’s two-goal edge. Nine minutes later, Columbus completed the Galaxy nightmare when Giancarlo Gonzalez headed home a Federico Higuaín corner, giving them a 4-1 win.
It was the first time this season LA has given up more than two goals in a game – a performance that comes on the heels of giving up two at home to San Jose. In that game, the Galaxy only gave up two shots on target but were caught twice in transition. On Saturday, despite holding 57 percent of the ball, LA gave up 12 shots on target, leaving little doubt as to the justice of the result.
That the result was just doesn’t make it any less of a surprise; at least, from Los Angeles’s point of view. While Columbus deserves credit for a convincing display, one that came in the face of last week’s disappointing loss, a three-goal loss is one few thought the Galaxy had in the team. For a team that had begun to look like a championship contender, Saturday could be a setback.
It would also be a complete outlier – a one-off. Though the defense was poor today, nothing about 2014 suggests that’s part of a bigger trend. The reason why this is such a big result: Nobody saw it coming.
It does, however, give us some insight into each team’s potential. For Columbus, it’s an example of the team putting it all together, getting the disparate parts that’ve misfired for much of the season onto the same page. When that happens, the Crew can put up a big result.
And for Los Angeles, the game showed the fine line Bruce Arena’s team may be walking. Though it was the league’s best over the previous month, the Galaxy also have deficiencies in defense, weaknesses that can be exploited when the back line isn’t getting help.
Odds are Saturday’s result will be a wakeup call.