Columbus Crew SC earned its first point and first clean sheet of the young season in Chicago last weekend. In that scoreless draw, Crew SC’s defense delivered an impressive performance, holding Chicago to just four shots and extinguishing any of the Fire’s offensive threats.
Much of the credit on the night went to Crew SC’s backline, anchored by two disparate but synergetic central defenders, Michael Parkhurst and Gaston Sauro. The centerback pairing commenced on September 6, 2015, when Sauro made his Black & Gold debut against FC Dallas.
Since then, the two have played next to each other in 11 matches, including four postseason starts. After securing clean sheets back-to-back to close out the 2015 regular season, the most recent showing in Chicago was the third shutout for the defensive duo.
“We were able to pin them into their half a little bit and that made it easy for Gaston and myself,” Parkhurst says. “I thought the outside backs did a really good job with helping us. It was also a product of us just being better than Chicago on the day—really limiting their options going forward, making life a little easier for us in the back. We didn’t have to put out too many fires.”
While Crew SC’s defensive pressure starts up top, Parkhurst and Sauro’s work in central defense can’t be overstated. Both defenders says they are getting more and more comfortable playing next to each other and hope to further cultivate their partnership.
“I feel very comfortable playing with him, and I think as the season goes on we’d like to continue not allowing any goals,” Sauro says.
The Argentine is certainly doing his part, blocking four shots for the Black & Gold in their first three matches this season. To put it into perspective, Crew SC has seven total blocks as a team, with one a piece from Parkhurst, Trapp and Kei Kamara, and only three players in MLS have registered five blocks.
“We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Parkhurst says, “and the more comfortable we get with each other, I think the better the partnership will be.”
Parkhurst is an MLS veteran in his seventh season, captaining the Black & Gold in his third straight year with the team. With field awareness, containment and distribution among his fortes, the team captain uses his vision from the backfield to command his team and lead by example. Those skills complement Sauro—a smart, physical player who utilizes his size and strength as a force to be reckoned with.
“We’re always trying to improve and work on our balance and help each other out with things that we see on the field,” Parkhurst says. “I enjoy playing with Gaston. He’s a competitor and he’s a fierce guy to have next to me and I appreciate that. I enjoy playing with him and I look forward to playing a lot more games with him.”
The defensive duo's next opportunity to take the field and defend their net comes on April 2 in Frisco, Texas against FC Dallas—an opponent that summons a tough memory for Sauro. His debut for Crew SC against Dallas last season was cut short when Sauro was forced to leave the field seven minutes into the match after colliding with teammate Wil Trapp. Sauro sustained a concussion and was sidelined for almost a month before he returned to his spot alongside Parkhurst.
“It was definitely exciting that I got those few minutes, but it was disappointing that I had to start off that way,” Sauro says. “It was definitely not the way that I wanted to start with this team; but it’s in the past now and I’m going to go forward to Dallas and play aggressively, because they are such a strong team and I’m looking forward to getting to face them again.”