In the wee small hours of the morning, the match official blew his whistle and the Columbus Crew beat St. Louis CITY SC, 2-1.
Along the way, there was one massive weather delay, a match that started nearly four hours late, and, apparently some pretty good vibes in the Crew locker room. But what mattered most was while it took longer than hoped, the Black & Gold started their Leagues Cup campaign with a valuable three points at Lower.com Field.
“We were ready to play tonight because first of all, sorry for the fans because they stayed for a long time, and thank you,” head coach Wilfried Nancy said afterward. “Thank you by the way because again, it was not easy to stay maybe five or six hours like this or maybe more. It was important for us to play for them.
“After that, the players also they were ready for that. Listen, this has been a good exercise for us because it's all the time difficult to prepare for a game like this. The chemistry in the in the locker room was good. It was really good.”
Go figure the first Columbus Leagues Cup match in club history would be a memorable one. With lightning in the area, the kickoff time was never even estimated — all that was planned was periodic updates about when pre-match warmups would begin. For the supporters in attendance, their patience was tested. In the locker room, time was filled by … basically anything anyone could think of.
“Everybody was trying to do something so they did a bit of everything – they danced a bit, they put the music [on], they watched games, they discussed, they played soccer tennis and they tried to do a lot of things to stay awake,” Nancy joked with a laugh. “I'm happy because yes, we had a good game. We had a good game. I like the way we played. Obviously, we should have scored more goals, but again, we defensively did also good things. It was a good game for the players.”
Once the match got going after 11:15 p.m., the home side didn’t need much time to take the lead. In the 11th minute, Lucas Zelarayán produced his trademarked free kick magic with a brilliant knuckler that spun around the wall — and kept St. Louis goalkeeper Ben Lundt planted.
Cucho Hernández, back from his one-match suspension, got in on the goal-scoring action just before the half hour mark when he converted a penalty to double the lead.
In a match that paired the two highest scoring clubs in MLS, it was the Crew who scored all the goals. Unfortunately for Jacen Russell-Rowe, his 85th-minute own goal gave CITY SC a consolation prize before the Black & Gold earned the three points.
There were other bright spots in the delayed match as well. Evan Bush made his first start in goal since May 24, when he played in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. There was also a debut, as defender Yevhen Cheberko logged his first minutes in Columbus since joining the club on June 9 from Croatian outfit NK Osijek.
“I'm pleased because we played the way we usually play, and for me, this is the most important,” Nancy said. “Again, yes, we could have scored; yes, we could have stayed with zero goals conceded, but defensively with the ball, we were good, and offensively without the ball, we were good.”
The Crew now leads Group C1 with three points. Club América, the next opponent who comes to Columbus on July 31, has yet to play. América and St. Louis will meet on July 27 — so Black & Gold supporters will know what they need to advance to the next round.
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