Crew Coverage

Crew Coverage pres. by Medical Mutual | Nancy: ‘Really proud to be coach of this team’

If Lucas Zelarayán’s midfield strike in Chicago was the most breathtaking goal of the season, then Sean Zawadzki’s hit Saturday night was the most angsty and cathartic. 

It was a moment when the goal and the point felt bigger than a slight tinkering in the conference standings, but a breakthrough for the Columbus Crew: for players, coaching staff and fans alike. 

Trailing 1-0 with 10 men — and without head coach Wilfried Nancy and another technical staff member — Zawadzki and the Crew produced a 94th-minute equalizer that stirred the souls of supporters and created an organic moment of community and togetherness. Field became a cauldron of deafening noise. In the melee, Zawadzki and teammates shook their fists, assumingly in celebration, but certainly tinged with frustration. Somewhere in the bowels of the stadium, Nancy did the same alongside Cucho Hernández. (Nancy joked afterward they celebrated so much they left their room in a mess.)

Saturday night’s match with New York City FC was filled with adversity, from officiating, to ejections, emotional swings and everything in between. But through it all, the Crew remained composed, rallied to equalize the game and, most importantly, made everyone proud of Columbus’ soccer club. 

“We talk a lot about values with the group and with the team,” Nancy said. “Like I told you, yes, we do this job; we are professional athletes, but also, I like to tell them there are also human beings behind that. Tonight, I had a lot of emotions because I do again this job to win, yes, but I also do this job to see the team in the stadium with a big solidarity and with a lot of things that can they cannot control in terms of what happened with the referee.

“But [the players] stay focused on the task, they were brave and they gave emotion to the 20,000 people that were in the stadium … I don't like to talk about possession or data and so on, but today when I watched the data and I saw what they did, it was spot on. For me, this is something that I knew that the players were able to do it. I'm really proud of them and I’m really proud also to be the coach of this team.”

There’s no easy way to summarize Saturday night, but here’s a crack at it. By halftime, both Zelarayán and Cucho had been booked for dissent. Frustration levels rose, but they started boiling over in the 68th minute when Cucho was sent off for a second yellow for a high kick. 

To this point, goalkeeper Patrick Schulte continued making one brilliant save after the next, earning chants for his name from The Nordecke behind him. But the opposition eventually beat him in the 75th minute when Justin Haak scored for NYCFC. 

Increased tension kicked off around the 90th minute when Nancy was red carded and ejected from a match for the first time in his coaching career. 

“Usually, I am composed and calm,” he said. “Yes, I have emotions like everybody, but I'm able to control that when this is the moment, but on that one, it was difficult. To get the emotion like this and to get the red card like this is because yeah, something happened. It was not possible for me to control that. 

“I'm really pleased about my players and what they did. They created the momentum, to go forward again, to play our game and to respect the game model but also to respect the values that have. For me, I'm really proud of that.”

Once the game resumed, the Crew pressed for their equalizer. One came when Luis Díaz played a ball into the box toward Christian Ramirez, who laid it off to an oncoming Zawadzki.

The Crew continued pressing for a winning goal, but the point was enough to keep Columbus fourth in the Eastern Conference standings in the final home match before the Leagues Cup break later this month. 

But more important than the point was the belief that was instilled during the draw, as Schulte alluded to in his post-game interview. 

“Probably chaos is a great word but as much as it was chaos, you know, Coach always talks about staying together, win as a team, lose as a team, like I've said before,” the goalkeeper said. “Tonight's a great example of staying together no matter what's going on. And you know, fight until the end. And you know, it was crazy, but if we need a late goal, we need to call Sean. 

“[Nancy] always says he gets goosebumps, gets these feelings and sticks out his arms because he's got goosebumps and just shows that he cares about us and that, you know, we're always one in this locker room, from training staff to coaching staff to players. That showed tonight.”

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