Wilfried Nancy is regularly questioned about his team’s aggressive starts to games, which has led to early goals and convincing wins at Lower.com Field. Each time he’s asked, the head coach’s answer remains something along the lines of being pleased with his team’s continued intensity, not just from the opening whistle, but across the full 90 minutes.
We saw what he meant Saturday night.
That attacking persistence carried into the 98th minute and led to a dramatic equalizing goal from the unlikely head of Sean Zawadzki, which sent supporters bedlam and kept the Columbus Crew unbeaten in its last four matches.
“I was pretty happy with the spirit of my players to fight until the end,” Nancy said after the match. “This is something that I congratulated them for because we didn't win, yes, but they found a way to come back, and for me, this has been a good exercise for my players to live this moment.”
After conceding a 58th-minute own goal, the Crew responded the next 40 minutes with one attack after another, as the home side searched for an equalizer. Once New England’s Dylan Borrero picked up his second yellow card in the 65th minute, Columbus played even more aggressively as the visitors bunkered around Dorde Petrovic’s goal, clinging to the one-goal lead.
There were good chances – and good saves – but the match remained 1-0 entering deep into stoppage time until Zawadzki’s clever back-post header earned the Black & Gold a breakthrough they fully deserved.
In the 98th minute, Lucas Zelarayán whipped a cross into the area, where the second-year midfielder scored his second career goal on only his second shot.
But then something that should inspire all Crew fans happened. As the ball curled in the net, the home side didn’t celebrate. Instead, they roared and ran back to their side of the pitch – desperate to keep the match going and score once more.
Truthfully, it always felt like Zawadzki’s goal was the last play of the game, but the players’ spirit was unwavering and embodied their coach’s mentality.
Nancy, however, had a different approach to the late goal.
“My wife and my kids just texted me to say, ‘Why were you on your knee?’ when we scored,” he said. “It's emotion, but because (the players) deserve it. They deserve to come back and to fight until the end like this and we plan something to try to help them to come back and they did it.
“They found a way to do it on the pitch and knowing what the standards and the values that we put in the team since the beginning, with this late goal, this is a good reward for the team because as you know, I told them in the beginning that all the players are really important. And we start with 11 players, but we finish with other players.”
With the result, the Crew sits fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 14 points from eight matches. More importantly, Columbus is playing with increased spirit and confidence at a fruitful time.
Over the next month, the Crew faces four teams sitting seventh or lower in their respective conference standings, and three of the matches will be at Lower.com Field – where Columbus is undefeated in 2023.
So far this season, the Black & Gold have shown they can set the tone from the opening whistle. Saturday night proved they can still set the tone at the death, too.
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