Photo by Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports
By DAN KARELL
When the Columbus Crew traded for the rights and then signed goalkeeper Steve Clark, there were few expectations from the fan base and media about if he’d be a solid replacement for Andy Gruenebaum.
Twenty nine games later, Clark has proven to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and has had a hand in keeping the Crew alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Crew currently sit in fifth place, the final playoff spot available, and will be counting on Clark to come up big in every game henceforth.
“I don’t think there’s many (goalkeepers) in this league that win points for a team like he does,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said.
On Saturday evening, Clark was at his best again in the final moments of the Crew’s 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution. A Crew turnover in their defensive third gave the Revolution’s Charlie Davies a breakaway on goal. Davies curled in a strike toward’s the far post that Clark somehow got a finger to, saving the Crew’s blushes and keeping all three points.
After making the save, Clark barked at his teammates for turning the ball over, but was congratulated by many of those same players for coming up big in a vital moment.
“I don’t know if you saw my reaction, but I think lost my mind a little bit because I couldn’t believe he saved it,” Crew midfielder Wil Trapp told reporters after the match. “Teammates bail out teammates and that’s why we got the win.”
Here are some more notes from the Crew match on Saturday:
TCHANI PRODUCES MAN OF THE MATCH PERFORMANCE
While Clark had arguably the biggest play of the game (aside from Federico Higuain’s free kick stunner), there was one player who was ubiquitous across the field from start to finish.
Tony Tchani had one of his best games in a Crew uniform on Saturday, winning 50/50 challenges, finding teammates with passes, controlling the tempo, and skillfully using misdirection to create space for himself with the ball in midfield. On more than one occasion, Tchani received a pass and dropped a shoulder, to move forward and spring a teammate on the counter attack.
Tchani’s performance earned rave reviews from his teammates and coaches.
“What didn’t he do (on Saturday evening),” Berhalter said. “He won headers, he won tackles, he made passes for penalty kicks, he was phenomenal. But we’ve been saying that all along that he’s been having a great season, and when you look at the body of work over these 29 games, he’s been exceptional, he really has. And he means a lot to this group.”
Clark called Tchani the team’s “unsung hero,” as Tchani has carved out a role in a midfield three that regularly consists of himself, Trapp, and Higuain.
“I think he’s had a number of fantastic games but this one, he just took over,” Trapp said of Tchani. “It was fun to play next to him and fun to watch.”
BERHALTER HAS FULL CONFIDENCE IN HIGUAIN
Federico Higuain scored a fantastic goal for the Crew on Saturday, but he also limped off the field in the 86th minute and for the third time this season, missed a penalty kick.
Higuain had a chance to put the match away in the 84th minute when New England Revolution defender A.J. Soares took down Justin Meram in the penalty area. Higuain stepped up and took a low shot with his instep, right into the dive of Shuttleworth however, who made an outstanding save.
Despite the miss, Gregg Berhalter reaffirmed after the game that the team has full confidence in Higuain taking penalty kicks moving forward.
“What I’d say is I’m not sure what type of health he was in,” Berhalter said. “He took a pretty big knock.
“He still has the responsibility to take the penalty kicks and we trust him fully. I don’t think there’s anyone more disappointed than himself that he missed. We’ll evaluate it and move forward accordingly.”
POGATETZ STILL GAINING FITNESS
It’s been almost two weeks since the Crew signed Austrian international centerback Emanuel Pogatetz, but the 31-year-old has yet to see the field.
Pogatetz had a shot to make the gameday squad for Saturday’s match but Berhalter and the coaching staff ruled against it, stating that Pogatetz had been on a stringent fitness regiment and Berhalter didn’t think the defender was ready. Pogatetz’s last competitive game was June 3, in a friendly international match against the Czech Republic.
“He had a high work load this week in fitness, conditioning, and weights and strength,” Berhalter said. “He potentially could have played a role as a substitute but we felt we wanted to continue with the work and get him to a point where he’s more fit and stronger before we introduce him.”
Pogatetz now could make his debut on Saturday against the Montreal Impact in the Crew’s second to last home game of the regular season.
NEWS AND NOTES
- The win on Saturday against the Revolution was the Crew’s fourth consecutive home victory. The last time they had a streak of four or more home wins was between Aug. 22-Sept. 19 2012. The Crew beat Toronto FC, the Revolution, the Montreal Impact, and Chivas USA.
- After picking up another yellow card, Federico Higuain now sits one card away from an automatic suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
What do you think of these notes? Impressed with Clark’s performances this season? Did Tchani stand out to you last Saturday? Would you rather have someone replace Higuain as the Crew’s primary penalty kick taker?
Share your thoughts below.