Like I would have told everyone before the season had I thought to think it, the Columbus Crew are going to do pretty darn well this year if they can get 20 goals apiece from Gyasi Zardes and Gaston Sauro.
Lo and behold, they are each on pace for 23 goals this year and the Crew are on pace for 79 points, so my retroactive prognostication/analysis checks out thus far.
Sauro, who scored the Crew’s first goal of the season in storybook fashion– a player who maybe wasn’t supposed to ever play again scoring for a club that maybe wasn’t supposed to ever exist again– rose to the occasion again home match number two, heading in the only goal of the game to lift the Crew to a 1-0 win over FC Dallas.
In the 10th minute, Sauro shook free of a mugging at the near post and looped a pinpoint Pedro Santos corner kick service into the far side netting. Sauro’s second goal of the season tied him with striker Gyasi Zardes for the team lead, prompting Neil Sika to exclaim during the Fox Sports Ohio broadcast, “He’s in contention for the Golden Boot!”
Crew coach Caleb Porter said set pieces are a critical component of a team’s success.
“You look at the analytics, the amount of percentages in every league in the world and how many goals come off set pieces, it’s typically from 20-30 percent come off set pieces,” he said.
With Sauro doing his best Chad Marshall impersonation, the Crew currently stand at 50% for the year. Porter was quick to shine the spotlight for that success elsewhere.
“My assistant coaches contribute a lot on those set pieces as well,” he said, “so I do want to credit Mike Matkovich. He’s my assistant and he loves set pieces. So he’s working on those every single week with these guys and it’s paying off.”
The players involved confirmed that the scoring play was something that translated from the training ground to the game.
“This is a play we worked on in training during the week,” Santos said. “I’m happy because I get one more assist and I am happy for (Sauro.) I hope he keeps scoring and I get to assist too.”
Sauro is perfectly fine that that arrangement.
“We attacked the spot we were working on during the week,” he said. “It’s working. I’m happy for that. I’m happy because I’m tied with Gyasi Zardes now and I’m happy for the team to win.”
Also, Sika’s game call came to life.
“I want to go for the Golden Boot,” Sauro said with a laugh. “I’m happy that this time we go for the win because last time I score we only tied.”
Sauro doesn’t have a history has a goal scorer, but 2019 is already off to a special start.
“I always score one or two goals everywhere I play,” he said. “I scored one at Boca, one at Basel, one at Catania and now I was here and couldn’t score, but this year, the goal is open for me and I am happy.”
Josh Williams knows a thing or two about fast starts for goal-scoring defenders. Technically, he knows three things. He scored three goals in the first eight game of the 2013 season. He didn’t score his second goal that year until game number four, so Sauro is slightly ahead of that pace.
“The ball just keeps finding his head, but he’s putting himself in good spots in the right areas,” Williams said. “I think he’s doing a good job of just sticking his head in there, and today was a good example of that. If you’re courageous and you’re brave, you can find the back of the net. Props to him.”
Williams stalled out that year at three goals. The club record for goals by a defender is four, set by Thomas Dooley in 1997 and equaled by Chad Marshall in 2008 and 2009. Sauro is now halfway there just three games into the season.
“Good for him,” Williams said. “We need it. As a fellow center back, any time a defender scores it kind of touches your heart. It pulls on your heartstrings a little bit, so I’m happy for him.”
At the end of the interview session, I noticed the Nordecke title belt sitting in Sauro’s locker. When I mentioned it, he turned around, grabbed it, and then proudly held up the professional wrestling-styled championship belt for display.
“This is something that the Nordecke give us because of man of the match. It’s very nice!”
Almost as nice as a defender getting it done at both ends of the field by outscoring all of the Crew’s opponents this season combined.
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