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Revolution vs. Crew SC, the Sequel: Columbus brings 5-match unbeaten run to Gillette

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Crew SC hasn’t allowed a goal in May, posting three straight shutouts.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC
Crew SC forward Gyasi Zardes is tied for the MLS lead in goals with eight this season, including one vs New England last month.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

If this is the last season in Columbus for Crew SC, they sure are making it a memorable one. Following an early three-match slide, the club is now on a 5-game unbeaten streak which, coincidentally, started with a home draw vs. the Revolution. Crew SC’s stellar run has been punctuated by three consecutive clean sheets for the first time since 2011, a feat never achieved by a Gregg Berhalter team. Columbus’ all-around excellence has also vaulted them into second place in the conference. While the defense has been lights out, MLS Player of the Week Gyasi Zardes, who scored against New England last month, has led the way offensively with four goals in the past five matches.

This encore between Eastern Conference originals features a total of five current MLS Team of the Week selections (Crew SC’s Zardes, Goalkeeper Zack Steffen and Berhalter; and New England’s Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla).

First Meeting: April 21 at MAPFRE Stadium

Result: Revs 2, Crew SC 2

New England battled back from two 1-goal deficits to earn the draw in an exciting, back-and-forth affair. An early own goal by Andrew Farrell was canceled out by Bunbury’s individual effort, beating US international Steffen just inside the far post. Just before the half, Columbus regained the lead through Zardes, but the Revs equalized again in stoppage time through some magic courtesy of Juan Agudelo and Penilla. Despite several chances from both sides, the second half was surprisingly scoreless, rendering the final scoreline of 2-2. At the time, the result extended Crew SC’s winless streak to four. As it turns out, though, the draw also initiated their current unbeaten run of five.

Breaking Down Columbus

Record: 6-3-3, 21 pts, +7

Standing: 2nd in Eastern Conference

Current Form: W-W-D-W-D

Columbus has only scored 17 goals through 12 matches, just a shade less than 1.5 goals per game. Who needs to score a lot of goals, though, when you’re not being scored upon all that much? Crew SC currently boasts the best defense in the Eastern Conference (and second-best in MLS), having only allowed 10 goals in those dozen matches. Better yet, Columbus is the only MLS club allowing less than one goal per game (0.83). Steffen and his back line already have 5 clean sheets — including the last three matches in a row — despite having rotated their squad to handle those past three over an 8-day span. The most impressive recent result was easily a 0-0 draw at Seattle after going down a man in the 15th minute.

While the defense has shined, the attack has shown versatility and consistency. Zardes’ performance thus far has proven to be money well-spent, as his eight goals are tied for the MLS lead. All-everything Frederico Higuain has tallied three himself, but his four assists lead the team. What’s even more problematic to the opposition is the fact that four other Crew SC players have at least two assists on the young season. While Higuain makes the Columbus offense tick, he’s got plenty of help.

Berhalter’s squad remains generally healthy and available, with winger Pedro Santos the notable exception. A thigh injury suffered early in last weekend’s match will keep him out of the New England game. Offseason acquisition Mike Grella — who began 2018 on the shelf — made his third appearance and first start last week and could take Santos’ spot. The former Red Bull made an emphatic Crew SC debut, coming on as a second-half substitute and scoring an 84th-minute winner vs San Jose.

Columbus’ run of five unbeaten is not to be overlooked, but four of the five matches have been at home. Four have also been against clubs well below the red line. The lone exception? New England.

Breaking Down New England

Record: 5-3-2, 17 pts, +4

Standing: 6th in Eastern Conference

Current Form: W-L-W-D-L

The Revs pressed a 2nd (and possibly even 3rd) choice Toronto FC lineup early and often, with Penilla scoring twice in just the first seven minutes of the match to give the hosts a dream 2-0 start. His was the fastest brace to begin a match in New England history, easily surpassing the 18 minutes set by Revolution legend Taylor Twellman over 11 years ago. An early second-half score by Bunbury — his team-leading fifth on the year — seemingly put the match out of reach, but Antonio Delamea’s own goal soon thereafter gave TFC a lifeline. Manager Greg Vanney then brought on three starters — including his top two attackers in Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vasquez — midway through the half in the hopes of securing a result, but the Reds could only manage a Seba penalty kick just before stoppage time to make the final score much closer than the match itself.

Following his squad’s meltdown in Montreal, which also yielded an injury to starting midfielder Juan Agudelo, first-year coach Brad Friedel shuffled his lineup in a big way. Homegrown Scotty Caldwell technically replaced Wilfried Zahibo at defensive mid, but he played higher up the field in Friedel’s 4-4-1-1. Luis Caicedo remained in the XI as more of a number six. Zahibo later spelled Caldwell for defensive purposes late in the match. Kelyn Rowe got the nod in place of Agudelo at left wing before relinquishing to Zachary Herivaux, who made his first appearance with the senior team since 2016. Penilla again patrolled the right wing for the entire match.

While the Revolution’s primary attackers — Bunbury (later replaced by Krisztian Nemeth) and number ten Diego Fagundez — each earned another start, the New England back line experienced the most dramatic lineup change. Delamea saw the pitch for the first time since his week one red card, slotting in at his customary 2017 right center back position. His 2018 successor Jalil Anibaba pushed over to the left, giving captain Claude Dielna the night off. Longest-tenured Rev Chris Tierney made his first start of 2018, replacing the struggling Gabriel Somi at left back. Goalkeeper Matt Turner and right back Andrew Farrell each held down their respective places in the lineup.

It’s doubtful Agudelo will be ready for Crew SC, possibly giving Rowe another start in his stead. However, Fagundez will be unavailable due to his MLS-leading 5th yellow card and the concomitant one-match suspension for accumulation. Might Friedel finally use Rowe at number ten, as many supporters have desired? Or could Herivaux make his first career MLS start in the playmaker role? What about Caldwell?

Analysis

A replay of what occurred in Columbus last month — an intense, end-to-end match — seems to be on tap, as is usually the case when these clubs meet. Crew SC’s defense has certainly improved, while its attack remains dangerous with Higuain pulling the strings and Zardes controlling the box. Can New England score and break Crew SC’s clean sheet run? Will Columbus try to handle the Revolution pressure and seek opportunities on the counter, or will they get on the front foot, press over the field, and challenge a suspect New England back line?

Aside from a disastrous showing in Montreal, the Revolution have owned a bend-but-don't-break defense. The two Toronto FC scores were an own goal and a penalty kick. In fact, Columbus also scored one of its two from an own goal last month vs. New England. Can the Revs display a lock-down defense like we saw against Sporting KC?

Buckle up!

Match Facts

This is the 72nd regular-season meeting between these original Eastern Conference foes. Columbus leads the all-time series 35-23-13. The teams are tied 15-15-6 in Foxborough. In their last six trips to Gillette since 2014, Crew SC has earned three results — two wins and a draw. Their last road victory vs New England was a 2-0 decision in 2016.

This is the final regular-season meeting between Columbus and New England in 2018.

How to Watch

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 19
Venue: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
TV: NBC Sports Boston (Boston); CW Columbus, Spectrum Sports OH, BCSN2 (Columbus)
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub (Boston); WWCD 102.5 FM (Columbus)
Streaming: MLS Live (now on ESPN+)