Columbus Crew vs. Aston Villa FC
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Crew Stadium – Columbus, Ohio
Attendance: 10,317 (although it seemed like perhaps 1000 more)
Weather: Overcast, warm, and muggy with cooling winds in the 2nd half
Final Score: Aston Villa FC 3 Columbus Crew 1
Pre-Match Notes: It was great to hear all the English accents wafting over the muggy, evening air as pockets of Aston Villa supporters sipped beer on the stadium grounds. There were more international jerseys evident in general as Man United, Roma, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Juventus were all accounted for. Many Villa supporters were draped in attractive game scarves available only through special ticket package purchases. Despite the disappointing attendance, there was a palpable energy around the grounds that is often lacking during regular season matches. It was clearly a more knowledgeable and interested crowd than is typically present. By match time, the Aston Villa fans were all standing together at their seats in the southeast corner of the stadium. While they stood throughout, they were a fairly quiet group. In fact, they were clearly drowned out by a strong contingent of Crew faithful augmented by drums and horns. Members of Sam’s Army (U.S. national team supporters) were also evident, occasionally breaking out in chants for the home country.
Match Notes: It was immediately evident from kickoff that the Crew were not prepared for the physicality of Aston Villa. That, coupled with speed and crisp passing, proved difficult for the Crew to handle throughout much of the first half.
In particular, forward John Carew was impressive in the early going. He had little difficulty finding consistent positioning inside the 18-box; often holding off the Crew’s most physical defender, Chad Marshall, with one arm while holding the ball at his feet.
This deep penetration created the space necessary for Ashley Young to bury a rocket from beyond 25 yards to the left corner in the 8th minute. The Crew were scrambling to defend in the box, and left Young unpressured as he carried and then delivered the blast.
After Crew goalie, Will Hesmer, made a scrambling save in the 9th minute, John Carew exerted his strength again. Carew bullied his way into the box, fending off Marshall long enough to execute a terrific give-and-go with Gareth Barry who netted the 11th minute goal.
The Crew struggled against a Villa defense that played very flat and compressed throughout the first half. Instead of playing the ball deep for the speedy Alejandro Moreno, the Crew possessed laterally and ineffectively; looking to get the ball to primary playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Once Schelotto started touching the ball, he finally created a Crew opportunity off of a free kick in the 28th minute. Schelotto slotted a ball to Ned Grabavoy who missed wide right from outside the box.
Neither team created many opportunities for the next 15 minutes. After Villa nearly cashed-in on a header in the 43rd minute, the Crew countered with their best first half chance.
Right before the whistle, a sneaky through-ball was chased down in the box by the Crew’s Robbie Rogers. He outmaneuvered his defender, and struck a shot from just outside the six-box that Villa keeper Stuart Taylor denied with a sliding stop. The ball rebounded, Rogers recovered and looked for a shot angle that was finally closed down by two Villa defenders and cleared.
Both teams substituted liberally to start the second half, with the benefit clearly tipped in the Crew’s favor. Aston Villa seemed more passive to start the half, and Kei Kamara used his quickness to single-handedly create difficulties for the Villa defense. He was denied in-close by another great sliding save from Taylor, sent a ball that Grabavoy just nodded wide, and just missed high from 18 yards; all within the first 12 minutes of the half.
The pressure finally yielded a result in the 76th minute. Jason Garey, just on moments earlier, benefited from a partially deflected ball in the 18-box and caught Villa’s Taylor flat with a nicely placed, left-footed goal.
The Crew continued to force the pace, and clearly had the better of the play as the match wound down.
Without Carew, Young, and Nigel Reo-Coker, Villa were clearly a different team and only troubled Crew substitute goalie Andy Gruenebaum once in the second half. That is, until Luke Moore headed in a final goal in injury time off of a Patrik Berger corner that sealed the result for Villa.
Post-Match Notes: Small groups of Villa supporters lingered in the stadium after the match talking and listening to the coaches’ press conference projected on the scoreboard at the south end of the stadium. Two Villa fans were collecting discarded plastic, souvenir Columbus Crew beer glasses and stacking them 30-high to take home.
Recent acquisition Nigel Reo-Coker started for Aston Villa. The Crew rested captain and U.S. national team stalwart, Frankie Hejduk.