By MITCHELL NORTHAM
WASHINGTON – It may have been the season opener for Columbus Crew and D.C. United but it was Columbus who looked to be in mid-season form Saturday night at RFK Stadium.
Led by Frederico Higuain’s brace, the Crew notched a 3-0 away victory over a helpless D.C. United team in Gregg Berhalter’s debut as Crew head coach. Jairo Arrieta also added a goal for Columbus.
Higuain, who is in his third season with the Crew, was a key part in the Crew’s impressive season opener.
“[Higuain] is a guy that has that ability,” Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It was great to get him started quickly.”
The Argentine DP scored his first goal of the season and the Crew’s second of the match after Columbus was awarded a controversial penalty kick.
Referee Andres Pfefferkorn’s pointed to the spot midway through the first half when D.C. midfielder Perry Kitchen was called for a penalty after tugging on the jersey of Crew defender Michael Parkhurst near United’s goal.
“I think it was a decision that was made too quick,” D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “At first glance I didn’t think it was a foul. I thought that was normal tug and touch and feel in the box; that happens on every set piece and every corner kick. But, [the referee] saw it differently.”
Higuain fired his shot right past Hamid and into the upper right corner of the net, giving his team a 2-0 lead. The PK came 14 minutes after Arrieta received a near-perfect pass from teammate Josh Williams and buried a goal past Hamid.
On that play, and throughout the night, Columbus was able to take advantage of D.C.’s slower back line by using speed and one-touch passes to create scoring opportunities for their offense.
Columbus added a late insurance goal when in the 90th minute Higuain scored thanks to an assist from Justin Meram, who entered the game in the 73rd minute as a substitute for Bernando Anor.
In addition to the three goals from the offense, the Crew were able to shut out a rebuilt D.C. attack centered around Eddie Johnson. Like D.C. United, the Crew had a large roster turnover from the previous season with five new starters including goalkeeper Steve Clark.
“I think it shows you that good players can play together without a lot of time,” Clark said of the clean sheet win. “The other thing I’ll say about this team is that there’s not one ego in this room.”
Clark, who is playing in his first season with Columbus, competed with Matt Lampson for the starting keeper job all preseason, but believed he would be named as the starter for the season opener.
“I think I expected it,” Clark said. “When [Coach Berhalter] told me I was starting it was about a minute meeting, I shook his hand, said thanks and moved on.”
Both D.C. United and the Columbus Crew will head into their first bye weeks of the 2014 season now; one team will try to keep the momentum and one team will try to build it, but both team’s admit they have work to do.
“We want to keep building this. We could use this week to really work on things,” said Berhalter.
“We got to work on a lot,” D.C. captain Bobby Boswell said. “It’s a work in progress all over the field.”
After a week off, D.C. United will travel to face Toronto FC while Columbus will host the Philadelphia Union on March 22.