The message from The Nordecke was clear: “Be INTENSE. Be LIMITLESS. Be MASSIVE”
That’s exactly what the Black & Gold did Sunday night at Lower.com Field.
Playing to keep postseason dreams alive, the Columbus Crew dismantled Atlanta United FC, 4-2, in a stirring win that pushed the club into the Eastern Conference Semifinals and sent the Five Stripes into their offseason.
The Crew was the aggressor and simply overmatched its opponent with an electrifying display.
“The big difference was the way we played without the ball,” head coach Wilfried Nancy said after the win. “When we played away, we had good moments, but we provoked also the bad moments. For me, this is the big difference.
“The way we want to play, I know that every coach they like to do that, but me, this is the way I want. We have to be brave without the ball but also with the ball. For me, it was the big difference that we were able to control this attitude. That's why the consequence is we had a really good game today.”
Nancy said he wanted his side to start on the front foot and that’s exactly what occurred. The league’s top-scoring team during the regular season carried its attacking venom into the playoffs, as captain Darlington Nagbe unleashed the opener nine minutes into the match.
Pressing high in Atlanta territory, the Crew forced Miles Robinson into a poor pass right to Nagbe, who then created space and delivered a low strike into the bottom left corner.
The club captain truly led by example and set the tone for what was in store for the remainder of the match. From there, the Crew kept playing with intensity, and the atmosphere, which was already raucous, turned bedlam.
The next goal matched the moment, as Malte Amundsen scored a worldie, as the Danish defender released a long-range strike that raced toward the top right corner.
“This is something I have saved for when we need it,” Amundsen joked.
The scoring continued. In the 33rd minute, the Crew went up, 3-0, when Alexandru Mățan finished off a brisk Columbus attack with a thunderbolt that screamed past Brad Guzan into the roof of the net.
Giorgios Giakoumakis trimmed the Crew’s lead to two goals two minutes later, but the tone was set and the damage was done.
The home side brought its scoring boots into the second half, too, as Diego Rossi added another in the 47th minute. Once again, Columbus created a counter attack, and Rossi ran free down the left side before kissing the ball off the post for a 4-1 lead.
Xande Silva added a second Atlanta goal three minutes later, but the damage was done. On a night when the Crew needed to be massive, the Black & Gold produced perhaps their best performance of the season.
It was the perfect response to the second match of this three-game series, Nancy said afterward.
“Every game, it's not the same picture,” Nancy said. “This is a new story. We started from zero because it was the third game. I really enjoyed the week that we had. We were able to find ways with the staff and the players to find the balance between, ‘OK, we lost the game, but at the same time we move forward because we know what we can do.’ I really enjoyed the week because were able to discuss to see what we have to do better.
“For me, I'm really, really happy because my players showed, yes, quality with the ball and quality without the ball but also, they were really good mentally in terms of resilience. I'm really proud of that. I'm proud of that.”
With the win, the third-seeded Crew will now face second-seeded Orlando City SC on Nov. 25 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The match will start at 5:30 p.m.
Unlike the opening round, these games will be single elimination moving forward.
Orlando is a team that Columbus should know pretty well. Two months ago, the Crew was leading before two late goals led to a 4-3 loss in central Florida. Now, the Black & Gold have an opportunity for revenge at the best time of the season. But before looking at the next round, it’s worth savoring Sunday night’s masterful performance in a clutch moment.
“I'm really proud of my players because it was a do-or-die game,” Nancy said. “This is the first time since three years, and a new group, a new staff, a lot of new things and a lot of new players also in terms of they didn't have a lot of minutes last year. For me, I'm really, really happy because yes, we are able to build something for the present moment but also for the future. Good reward for them.”
CLAIM YOUR SPOT FOR PLAYOFFS!
Secure your seat today and be ready to defend our home once more in the final contest of the three-match series.