Wednesday night was a perfect midweek celebration. For the Columbus Crew, it was a 3-0 win over rival Chicago Fire FC. For Cucho Hernández, it was a second hat trick in three games. For the supporters, it was a postseason-clinching performance.
As for head coach Wilfried Nancy, it was the perfect response to last Saturday night at Orlando City SC.
The point here is a lot happened, but these were good happenings, as the Black & Gold delivered a dominant performance that clinched the club’s place in the postseason for the first time since 2020.
“To be honest with you, we did what we did in Orlando, but with a clean sheet tonight,” Nancy said after the match. "For me, this is the best answer because we score goals, but also, we were able to defend better. Yes, we know that they played with 10 guys, but also, we provoked that because of the way we played. We provoked frustration.
“This is a good answer, but I was not waiting for an answer; I was waiting to compete and to be consistent during all the game. This is what they did. That's why I’m pleased.”
Cucho only needed eight minutes before scoring his first of three goals. It came via the penalty spot after a VAR decision.
Then, after a second VAR decision, Cucho scored another penalty eight minutes later.
His third goal arrived in the 23rd minute from a header. As Julian Gressel whipped in a corner, the Colombian was there to nod the ball home in front of The Nordecke, sending the crowd into a frenzy for a third time.
“Now since I would say maybe one month or two months, he's been better with [connecting with teammates], and he's able to score goals – we know that,” Nancy said. “I think emotionally, also, he reached a good level because in the past, when he was not scoring, he was frustrated about the situation. That's why I congratulated him after the Montreal game because he scored three goals also, but he was supposed to score more goals the two games before, but he stayed on the task.
“That's why for me this is a big step with Cucho in terms of try to believe in himself and to trust also his teammates. That's why tonight he was spot on. It was good, and he deserved it. He deserved it.”
The hat trick was Cucho’s second in three games, and, at 22:51, it was the second-fastest in MLS history.
The No. 9 now has a team-leading 13 goals, which is the most by a Crew player in a season since Gyasi Zardes in 2018. He also has 11 assists, which leads the team.
“It’s been an incredible season up to this point,” Cucho said after the match. “I’ve reached the numbers that I had in mind but the work is not done because my goals are still high but I will keep working to reach those goals.”
With the win, the Black & Gold clinched a postseason spot with five matches remaining in the regular season. With a month of league action left, the final handful of games will determine the club’s postseason seeding and the opportunity to have home field advantage in the playoffs.
As of today, the Crew moved up to third in the Eastern Conference standings with 48 points from 29 games. It’s worth noting the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution are level on points but have a game in hand.
Columbus continues its league campaign when it travels to Texas to FC Dallas on Saturday night. FCD also enters the match in good form, having won, 3-1, at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.
“Listen, I don't take that for granted to make the playoffs,” Nancy said. “It's been two years now that we didn't do it in Columbus. The idea was to reach 14 wins – this is what we said in the beginning of the year – and because we focused on us, and again, we faced opposition, but the idea is all the time, I like to do it like this – maybe it is easier for me.
“When I sat with the team the beginning of the year, we said that the first objective is to reach between 13 and 14 wins to make the playoffs and after that, it is to be limitless. This is what we're going to try to do.”
The club won its 14th game Wednesday. Let’s see how limitless the Black & Gold can be.
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