By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Crew broke out of an eight-game winless skid in a big way against a very short-handed Chicago Fire side.
Marked by two beautiful goals engineered by the wizard-like feet of Federico Higuain, and scored by midfielder Ethan Finlay and forward Jairo Arrieta, the Crew cruised to a 2-0 victory against the Fire at Crew Stadium on Saturday night. The Fire were missing starters Mike Magee, Bakary Soumare, Lovell Palmer, and Alex.
The Crew were also missing their regular back line, with Costa Rican call-ups Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez away and Michael Parkhurst and Josh Williams on the bench.
“It’s always better to win than to lose or draw,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “I think we’ve been frustrated that we’ve been playing well and not getting the results, and we’re still trying to focus on the product that we’re creating, we’re still trying to focus on how we play, but it’s nice when you get results. I think it was a good effort, obviously missing some guys, and the guys who filled in did a great job.”
With a new lineup, the Crew looked rejuvenated and took advantage of the Fire’s lack of depth in defense. It didn’t take very long for Higuain to start spraying balls through the Fire back line, with Ethan Finlay matched up against Fire left back Greg Cochrane.
The Crew second-year player torched Cochrane the first time Higuain found him in space, but Finlay’s cross into the box found no teammates. The second time around, he wouldn’t miss his target.
In the tenth minute, Higuain played a perfectly-weighted ball for Finley to run on to between Fire centerback Patrick Ianni and Cochrane. Finley got to the ball first ahead of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson and after rounding the goalkeeper, Finley placed the ball just inside the post to give the Crew an early lead.
“I was waiting for the right moment for my teammate to not be offside, and to play the first ball through the opposing defender,” Higuain said.
“It was a tight angle and it found the back of the net,” Finlay added.
Just 15 minutes later, Higuain was the architect of another Crew goal. Breaking away on a counter attack, Higuain played a ball forward for Arrieta to run onto. Arrieta muscled off Ianni and finished through Johnson’s legs to put the Crew up by two goals.
“He’s pretty close to the best in the league,” Fire head coach Frank Yallop said about Higuain. “The game plan was as soon as he got the ball to drop. We couldn’t really figure it out. He does it at the right time and he finds space. He’s a good player, take nothing away from that guy. He’s a very good player. He sees the game well. He sees the game how it should be looked at. Offensively, we couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t just him they had good runners off the ball. We made poor decisions defensively to give them the chances to score.”
The Fire had their chances, with both Quincy Amarikwa and Juan Luis Anongono proving to be difficult for the Crew defensive line, but they weren’t able to finish any of their chances.
In the 29th minute, Anongono had a header from the edge of the area that clanked off the far post and back into the middle for the Crew to clear, ending a terrific chance for the Fire to cut the deficit in half.
Amarikwa used almost every chance he had in the box to shoot, but Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark came up with a number of sure-handed saves to keep a clean sheet.
“For me it’s more important to win and I knew that if I continued to play the way that I play every game then shutouts are going to come and a lot of them,” Clark said. “For me it’s about process not results all the time, especially in the goal keeping you have to keep your head and blinders on from distractions. Shutouts come and they go.”
Yallop gave Tottenham academy midfielder Grant Ward his Fire and MLS debut in the second half, and though the youngster didn’t score, he did have a few memorable tackles, including winning the ball along the sideline in a 50/50 with Crew left back Chad Barson.
Parkhurst came on for Barson in the 87th minute, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 15,290 at Crew Stadium.
“It’s nice to be back home,” Parkhurst said. “It’s a few weeks earlier than I anticipated or that I wanted, but it’s really good to be home. It was a really nice ovation when I came on the field, I heard everybody and I was really appreciative of that, the support that everyone’s given me here.”