Federico Higuain may not have started the match for the Columbus Crew against the New York Red Bulls, but he sure had a role in finishing it.
Higuain came on as a half time substitute after being left out of the starting eleven and he came on to provide the assist in the lone goal in a 1-0 Crew win over the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal at MAPFRE Stadium.
The Red Bulls nearly spoiled the fun for Columbus in the final minute, but Zack Steffen made the save of the day, diving to his left to make a fingertip save on a Bradley Wright-Phillips header.
Higuain did not start the game after playing 120 minutes and picking up a yellow card on Thursday night’s shootout win over D.C. United. Resting him to open the match was clearly a good decision by head coach Gregg Berhalter, as his attacking midfielder entered the match after the break with a full tank of gas and made a real difference on the pitch in the first leg win.
Gyasi Zardes scored the lone goal of the match in the 61st minute, but it was the lead-in play before the shot that gets the credit for the goal. It was Higuain providing the final pass. He received a feed from Milton Valenzuela and followed that with a fancy backheel flick to the forward, who easily shot past a helpless Luis Robles.
Higuain’s presence, in general, livened up the match from a Columbus standpoint. It didn’t take him long to spearhead a dangerous counter attack early in the second half before setting up the goal.
For the Red Bulls’ part, aside from a flurry of corners in the middle of the first half they have very few chances going forward. The Columbus defense remained organized and kept New York’s dangerous attackers at bay for most of the match.
The Crew will try to defend their lead next weekend when these two sides meet in the second leg at Red Bull Arena.
Man of the Match
There was a huge difference between the Columbus side that took the field to open the match and the one that came out after half time with Federico Higuain out there. It took the Argentinian no time at all to become a big part of the match and he truly had an effect with the assist on the Zardes goal.
Moment of the Match
As big as the Gyasi Zardes goal was for Columbus, it was the last-second Steffen save to deny Wright-Phillips a potential equalizer that made the biggest difference.
Match to Forget
The Red Bulls struggled to get anything going up front, and a lot of that had to do with the midfield being unable to get through a stout Columbus defense. Kaku was rendered invisible on the day.
20 goals for Zardes this season. Last season Sigi Schmidt had him playing right back. So, kudos to Berhalter for trading for Zardes and putting him in a position to succeed.