By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Crew benefited from a little bit of magic in their home opener. It just didn’t come from the expected source, Federico Higuain.
Unheralded midfielder Bernardo Anor scored two goals, including a long-range blast in first-half stoppage time to help lead the Crew to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening in the team’s home opener at Crew Stadium. Leo Fernandes scored the loan goal for the Union in the defeat.
The victory marked the first time in Crew franchise history that the team has opened a season with two consecutive wins. Meanwhile for the Union, they remain winless at Crew Stadium.
“I told the guys that this win might have meant more to us than (against D.C. United) because of the way we had to do it and the adversity we were faced with, especially in the second half,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter told SBI following the match. “I’m proud of the guys and I’m proud that we kept battling and hung in there.”
The Crew planned from the start to make use of the entire field and make the Union chase all game long, but turnovers in the middle of the park made the game a counter-attacking affair at both ends.
Crew defenders Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez bailed out their team on multiple occasions in the first 20 minutes before the Crew earned their first corner kick in the 23rd minute. Higuain launched an out-swinging corner kick and with Parkhurst and Gonzalez making near post runs, Anor found himself open at the far post.
Anor leapt without a marker and snapped a header towards goal to give his side the lead.
“We practice that set piece over and over and it came out exactly as we practiced it,” Anor told SBI. “Credit to the coaches and the team.”
Following the goal, the Crew held momentum for a quick spell before the Union took control of the match. Despite chances from Jack McInerney, Maurice Edu, and Vincent Nogueira, Anor reached deep into his hat of tricks for the game’s second goal.
In first-half stoppage time, Anor found space in the middle of the park and unleashed a blast that caught Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath out of position. The ball zoomed into the net, giving the Crew a two-goal lead into halftime.
“That’s something you don’t practice very often but I was fortunate to score the goal and all I can say is I’m happy for that,” Anor said.
“I think it takes confidence and that’s what you see from all the guys on the field. Building off that confidence is going to get us where we want to be and trying things like that is going to create chances for the team and for ourselves.”
Coming out of the halftime break, the Crew looked the team in control. Just two minutes into the second half, Jairo Arrieta, who had a quiet match, found himself in space in the box thanks to a through ball from Higuain. Unfortunately for the Crew, his shot on goal went wide.
Two minutes later, the Crew nearly got their second goal when Hector Jimenez produced another good cross from the right, but Anor got in the way of Arrieta’s attempt and the chance shot also went wide.
“We had a couple of chances to get that third goal and I think the game would have been a little bit different had we been able to but it didn’t happen for us,” Parkhurst told SBI. “Then (the Union) upped their pressure, they played three guys higher, they pushed their outside backs a little bit further and they got us pinned there for a little bit.”
The Union cut into the lead in the 62nd minute as substitute Leo Fernandes darted onto a cross from Sebastian Le Toux and finished just ahead of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark, starting a period of possession for the away team that lasted through the final minutes.
“At halftime (the team) had a good little chat, we knew we were still in the game, and that the next half was crucial,” Edu told SBI. “We came out, we showed a lot of character, a lot of heart to keep fighting and get back in the game. We got our goal and from then on, we knew that the game was still up in the air.
“We kept pressuring, we created quite a few chances that on another day we’ll score, and tried to keep ourselves in the games as much as possible. In the end we fell a little bit short.”
McInerney, who had a tough day in Columbus, could have tied the match with his second one-on-one opportunity of the match but he decided to try and set up a teammate. The 21-year-old’s pass though in retrospect was the wrong decision as the Crew were able to get back on defense and clear the ball away.
Berhalter rolled the dice and brought on 2013 Crew leading goalscorer Dominic Oduro to replace Arrieta in the 66th minute. Oduro had a few chances but he showed plenty of rustiness and will have to be eased back into the squad.
Fernandes nearly scored again in the 71st minute and Union substitute Antoine Hoppenot came close to tying the match in the 89th minute but his shot went just wide of the far post.
“It wasn’t our best game, but I think it will go a long way in terms of building this team and them having to grind out a result like this, it’s not easy doing it,” Berhalter said.
Here are the game highlights: