By TIM FONTENAULT
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Federico Higuain’s first goal in more than two months could not have come at a better time for the Columbus Crew, who have now won consecutive games for the first time since opening the season with three wins.
Higuain scored his seventh goal of the season on a free kick just before halftime and Ethan Finlay broke a deadlock with six minutes to play, as the Crew sent the New England Revolution to their eighth-straight loss in a 2-1 victory at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
“It’s an important three points for us,” Michael Parkhurst said, who returned to Gillette Stadium for the first time after spending four seasons with the Revolution from 2005 to 2008. “I feel for New England with what they’re going through right now because we just went through it as well. But for us, it’s great. We’ve got to build some momentum and we’re starting to do that.”
The Crew had more of the ball – 52 percent – than New England in the first half, but took a long time to settle in and create chances. The Revolution were constantly in the attacking third, which led to nine first-half corner kicks, though they were rarely threatening. Once the Crew started to settle in and Higuain was able to link up with the overlapping fullbacks, the game changed.
“As Pipa goes, we go,” Parkhurst said.
It was Higuain’s instrumental play that led to him getting his first goal since May 17 just before the half. A through ball down the right wing played right back Chad Barson into open space, which he used to feed Bernardo Anor, who was running into the box from the left wing. Anor was unable to finish, but it was the first time Columbus showed signs of life.
The Crew kept the ball down in their attacking third, and eventually earned a free kick 21 yards from goal. With disregard for New England’s six-man wall, Higuain got the ball up and over the defense and curled it past Shuttleworth with ease, sending Columbus into the half with a 1-0 lead. In the nine games Higuain went without scoring, the Crew won only twice.
“He needed that, he needed that goal,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “And it was a fantastic free kick on turf. To hit a ball like that is pretty special, and he has that ability in him. We’re getting him there. He had a tough week last week with three games. He played all the minutes in those games, so it wasn’t easy for him and this is a great response, I think.”
The Revolution’s search for an equalizer did not last long. Five minutes into the second half, Kelyn Rowe, who had just put a shot inches wide, delivered a perfect corner kick to the head of A.J. Soares, who beat Steve Clark to level the match. All six goals Soares has scored in his career have been headers on set pieces.
For the next half hour, it looked like cautious soccer between two sides desperate to fight for a playoff spot out of the Eastern Conference. Throughout, however, the more threatening chances came from Columbus. Not long after Soares’ goal, Finlay struck the near post after finding his way into the box and took a chance at an angle.
The thing about Finlay is that he is an opportunistic player, and when he finds an inch of space, he will take it.
That inch of space came in the 84th minute. Darrius Barnes, an early substitute for Chris Tierney, who left with a knee injury, lost track of Finlay, who got on the end of a long through ball from Justin Meram, who had just entered the game, and beat Shuttleworth for the winner.
“If you look at all my goals, I’ve had great setups,” Finlay said. “I’m not just being a team guy that way. Honestly, (Higuain’s) played me some great balls. So it’s just me making the runs and these guys picking me out, and I’ve got to be thankful for that. Hopefully I can return the favor come the end of the season.”
The win puts the Crew in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and drops the Revolution to sixth, looking in on the teams currently in playoff positions. August will start with three difficult tests for the Crew, who go to Chicago before hosting Toronto and Los Angeles.
Who they play does not matter, however. The Crew know they have been in with a chance at three points in most of their matches. It has simply been a matter of closing them out.
“I think we’ve had opportunities,” Berhalter said. “If you look at the Portland game, we should have gotten three points out of that one. If you look at the Toronto game, we should have gotten three points out of that game in Toronto. These games we’ve closed. The Montreal game we came from behind and had the last stretch. We had to grind it out and we did it. This one, same type of environment and we did it. That’s the difference right now.”