Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was supposed to be Landon Donovan’s night at Crew Stadium, but the Columbus Crew weren’t having any of that.
Coming off a lackluster performance in a 3-2 defeat to Toronto FC, the Crew took their game to a new level, routing Donovan and the LA Galaxy, 4-1, in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,729. Both Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay finished with one goal and one assist, each. Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark also had a huge game, and ultimately kept the Crew in the game throughout.
“I think guys realized that its time to perform,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Obviously the Galaxy is a team that is easy to get up for because of the quality they have but the guys were hungry today. I don’t think there’s anyone who had a subpar performance, and that’s including the substitutes. So it was a good team effort tonight.”
Donovan received a standing ovation from the fans during a ceremony prior to the game. That would be the only real highlight of the night for Donovan and the Galaxy, as they struggled to contain the Crew’s presence in midfield and later their lightning-quick counter attacks.
“I think in the first half, they clearly outplayed us,” Arena said. “There were a bunch of goals for us tonight that we failed on. Our passing tonight was poor, our finishing was poor, we had opportunities to do a better job and didn’t do it.
“A lot of the basics we got beat on (tonight), give them credit.”
The Crew enjoyed one of their best matches of the season as they played with more passion and energy. After plenty of chances for both the Crew and the Galaxy, it was Meram who put the hosts on the board.
Meram took a pass from Toni Tchani, who also had a season-best performance, and dribbled towards the box. After dragging two defenders with him, Meram spun around his left shoulder and fired a dipping curling drive to the far post that had eyes for the net, giving the Crew a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
“It is a thing I have adapted,” Meram said. “You have seen over and over in games that I do it a lot. I picked it up as a way for me to free myself to get that shot off that I love. I have had four goals this year of that nature.”
The Galaxy began to pick up the tempo after going down a goal, with Donovan, Stefan Ishizaki, Robbie Keane, and Gyasi Zardes all combining in the final third, trying to play in tight areas. However, somewhat against the run of play, the Crew added their second of the match.
Meram was given space and time to dribble forward towards the edge of the box in the 33rd minute, and as he drew defenders on, layed off a nice pass for Finlay to run on to. Finlay took one touch and sent a firecracker past LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to make it 2-0.
“Justin was attracting quite a bit of attention after that first goal, and I just kind of made a diagonal run in behind Omar and (Meram) laid a great ball off,” Finlay said. “I’ve been working on my finishing this week, it wasn’t very clean so to hit my first one on goal, in the upper corner, was pretty special.”
Following the halftime whistle, the Galaxy came out with more energy and were able to cut the deficit in half. Dan Gargan, who was one of the few positive performers for the Galaxy, sent in a cross into the box that Zardes fired home on the volley in the 49th minute.
The Crew though didn’t lose their cool and were able to rebound with two second half goals.
Substitute Ben Speas found space along the left side of the box, took a touch towards goal, and fired a hard low shot to the far post that went past Penedo for the Crew’s third goal, effectively ending the match in the 75th minute.
Crew centerback Giancarlo Gonzalez added an insurance goal in the 85th minute when he powered home a header off a Federico Higuain corner kick, scoring his first MLS goal.
“I think what you saw here was just execution for a full 90 minutes tonight,” Finlay said.
“That’s a really good team but we said at the start of the week that we’re going to play our style and we did that, and we were able to execute. It was a fantastic result for us.”
Donovan, who called his reception from the Crew faithful, “incredible,” wasn’t so kind to his team’s performance on the evening.
“I think they just outcompeted us,” Donovan said. “For whatever reason they just wanted it more. And the finishing was a difference (in the game). Chances were probably pretty similar both ways and they scored some goals that they may not score again this year, and on the other side we didn’t finish our chances well enough so that was sort of the story line.”
Here are the game highlights: