On Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Mensah produced a performance that reiterated why the Crew’s captain is also one of the best defenders in MLS.
With an admirable performance on both ends of the pitch, the Ghanaian center back delivered the game-winning goal in the 65th minute and resembled a brick wall defensively, keeping Atlanta United quiet in a 1-0 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After the game, head coach Caleb Porter went so far as to say the Crew’s defending was “unbelievable” and that Mensah was the “man of the match.”
“I thought he was unbelievable in the box, his box defending, heading things out,” Porter said of his captain.
Statistically speaking, it’ll be difficult to match what Mensah achieved on Saturday.
Along with scoring his first league goal this season, his 14 clearances were the most by anyone in the league so far this season. His 11 headed clearances are also a single-match high in MLS.
“There are going to be some games where you need your center-backs to do a bit more,” Porter said. “Certainly, in that second half we needed Jonah and Bouba (Keita) and Waylon (Francis), whoever was in the game to really have big balls – sorry for the French – ...and you have to be mentally tough, and I felt we showed that, and that’s why we’re, right now, one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
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The Black & Gold entered the match with eight players unavailable and played with a rotated squad. Alongside Mensah and Keita, Saad Abdul-Salaam replaced Harrison Afful at right-back, while Pedro Santos made his fourth-ever appearance at left-back in his career.
Collectively, the group, in addition to goalkeeper Eloy Room, kept Atlanta quiet in front of goal, frustrating a home side that’s in the midst of a club-record winless streak and hoping forward Josef Martínez’s return will change fortunes. It didn’t against Columbus.
Instead, it was Mensah, a center-back, who converted on the best attacking moment of the game for either club, and it was Mensah who was flawless defensively.
“I believe every game that we go out to play we want to keep a clean sheet,” Mensah said. “It’s never going to be easy, but we need to defend like we did today – collectively, stepping in for teammates, covering for teammates, and I think we might even do better than we did last season. Talking of what we did last season, we want to improve on what we did last season. It’s going to take games like this to get into the rhythm of getting back to getting those clean sheets and winning games on the road.”
But Mensah’s efforts stretched beyond what happened in either 18-yard box.
The captain’s 43 completed passes were second-most of any Black & Gold players (take a guess at who led the team) and Mensah’s 89.6-percent passing accuracy was third-highest. His 71 touches were also second-most, trailing only Darlington Nagbe.
Add that to his 14 clearances, three interceptions, two tackles, and a block, and Mensah had a performance that will probably be the benchmark for any defender in MLS in 2021.