Three days removed from a heartbreaking last-minute defeat, the Columbus Crew bounced back Saturday night to produce its biggest win of the season to date, as the Black & Gold beat reigning MLS Cup champion New York City FC, 2-1, at Lower.com Field.
It was a night when the attacking playmakers delivered an electric performance, the goalkeeping was top class and the Crew improved to unbeaten in 10 of its last 11 matches – this time against the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
“I've said this a lot, but the players’ resiliency, after a really difficult loss; to then turn around mentally and physically, play last year's MLS Cup champion; number two in the league,” head coach Caleb Porter said after the win. “Obviously, everyone knows they are one of the best teams in the league. They didn't play a midweek game; to then bounce back and put on that type of performance.
“The drive, the determination, the hunger they showed today. Even, you know, the resiliency after conceding early, and then conceding again. And they just never wavered in their belief, and they never stopped fighting, and they never stopped attacking.”
Three minutes into the match, the visitors took the lead from a shot that deflected off Jonathan Mensah that was ruled an own goal. Juan “Cucho” Hernández proceeded to equalize game match in the 20th minute, however, when Lucas Zelarayán played a through ball down the right flank to Luis Díaz, who then cut the ball back into the box toward a running Cucho. The Colombian then buried his fifth goal of the season – all within the last month since he arrived from Watford FC.
Zelarayán pulled the Crew in front seven minutes later when NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson had a horrible giveaway to Díaz, who picked out the Armenian international atop the box. Zelarayán impressively chipped Johnson to give himself seven goals this season.
Gabriel Pereira scored an equalizer in the 64th minute from another deflected shot, but it was Zelarayán who scored in the 75th minute to seal the win and give Díaz a hat trick of assists for the first time since he joined the club in 2019.
“We need to put these guys in situations in the final third, because they're going to pull off plays and score goals,” Porter said. “They did that today. You know, Cucho is always in around the goal and getting chances. And so is Lucas.
“For Lucas to score two goals today, Luis Diaz I think had (three) assists, Cucho a goal; I thought that the front four was electric today. And again, I think they're going to be electric, if we're on the front foot, and we're pressing and playing the front half, trying to dictate games in that way. I thought it was our best pressing game of the year.”
It’s important to place this match in context to Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to CF Montréal, when the Crew blew a 1-0 lead in the final minutes of the match to snap a nine-game unbeaten run.
On Friday, head coach Caleb Porter met with six Columbus Crew veteran players to discuss the club’s 2022 season to date. The topics included the team’s unbeaten run, the heartbreaking loss Wednesday night and what this group of players wanted to achieve this season.
In short, players who have already lifted trophies in a Crew uniform know this team is too good not to be competing for another MLS Cup.
“We talked about how it would be a real shame if that core, and others who have been here, don't make a run to win another trophy this year,” Porter said. “What I saw today was a group of core guys that looked reenergized; like they took ownership of the season today. And even down a goal, said ‘We're not going to lose today. We refuse to lose.’”
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