The Columbus Crew picked up right where it left off from the Hell is Real Derby on Saturday night, as the Black & Gold beat Toronto FC, 2-0, at Lower.com Field in the Trillium Cup.
But head coach Wilfried Nancy said it wasn’t the final score that impressed him, but his team’s mentality.
“The players [had] a fantastic game because this is not easy to play this kind of game,” head coach Nancy said after the match. “Usually, I don't talk about the opposition, but when you face a team that they're struggling a bit and at the same time they have nothing to lose, I would say the story of the game we were close to score goals, many goals, and we didn't do it. Mentally, this is really difficult.
“I'm really proud of what they did my players obviously because like I told them, ‘I'm not sure that we would have been able to do the same two months ago.’ For me, they grew.”
The Crew dominated from the kickoff and it wasn’t if the club would score, but when. Through the first 20 minutes, Columbus controlled possession and where the ball was territorially on the pitch. It paid off in the 21st minute, as a high press forced Toronto to lose the ball in its own half.
Through quick passes, Darlington Nagbe deked then dribbled on goal and laced a low shot at Tomás Romero. The keeper parried the ball, and Diego Rossi was there for the rebound, scoring his first Crew goal in his first start.
“It was really nice to be in the first XI, to score my first goal here at home with all the fans,” Rossi said. “It was really nice, but also, I enjoy the win that is really important for us in this part of the season. It is really important to win every game.”
From there, the Crew continued to control the match, but the second goal didn’t arrive until second half stoppage time. That’s not to say Toronto didn’t have chances – Lorenzo Insigne hit the post in the 25th minute – but the Black & Gold kept the visitors quiet while continuing to produce offensive opportunities.
The Trillium Cup match was the first time that Nancy started Rossi, and it was the first time Crew supporters were treated to the attacking trio of Rossi, Christian Ramirez and Cucho Hernández from the opening whistle. If Saturday was any indication of what to expect, then anticipate more goals.
The Crew had a season-high 31 shots. Afterward, Nancy said the creativity and linkage between players was crisp, but the final execution needed to be more clinical.
Jacen Russell-Rowe, for a second straight game, scored a late clincher in stoppage time when goalkeeper Patrick Schulte elected to go route one. Schulte sent a long ball over the Toronto backline, where it bounced to Russell-Rowe to produce his fourth goal of the season – and against the club he grew up playing for.
It should be noted that Schulte and the backline looked strong, especially with Rudy Camacho as the central defender in the back three. Camacho, who made his first Crew start, did well defending, but also when dictating possession, Nancy said.
“He was able to help us play with a rhythm, to slow down and also to play between the lines – he's really good at that,” Nancy said. “He needs more time also because in terms of details, he has to go back with what we've done before, and in Montreal, it was not the same way to play. He was able to adjust. Again, with more games, he is going to be able to be the Rudy that I know.”
Following Saturday’s win, the Crew will play its first midweek regular season match since May 31 on Wednesday night when the Black & Gold head to Houston to face the Dynamo. Including that match, Columbus has nine games remaining in the 2023 regular season.
Each game is a learning lesson, and Saturday was all about staying calm offensively when chances weren’t leading to goals, while controlling an opposing attack against a side that had nothing to lose.
“I like the way we won because it was not an easy game mentally,” Nancy said. “Now, the idea we have three [away] games and we have two games left before the break, and the idea is to try to make a run. We'll see what we're going to do able to do.”
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