The sound of the jackhammer still echoed inside Lower.com Field when Lucas Zelarayán dribbled along the end line and struck a near-post shot. Not for the first time Friday night, FC Cincinnati goalkeeper spilled the ball into the mixer, and a failed FCC clearance hit Miguel Berry, who deflected the ball into the net.
The scenes were euphoric.
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As Berry and his teammates celebrated the forward’s second goal in two minutes, it felt like a heavy psychological burden was finally being lifted, and those inside the stadium were the lucky ones to cherish it.
After Berry scored the third goal in a 3-2 win over Cincinnati in the "Hell is Real" rivalry, there weren’t anxious scenes and murmurs from the fanbase that the Seattle finish would repeat itself. No, instead the smell of sulfur stagnated in the heavy August air chants from the Nordecke roared. Finally, this was the moment when the Columbus Crew would snap their losing streak, bragging rights against FCC were renewed and Crew looked like the team they’re capable of being.
“I’m just real proud of the guys,” head coach Caleb Porter remarked after the rivalry win. “There are not many teams that lost six in a row then go down, 2-1, with 13 minutes to go that can pull out a result like that. That’s pretty incredible, guys.”
The Black & Gold took the lead in the 45th minute when Lucas Zelarayán lifted a curling free-kick past Vermeer for his fifth free-kick goal of the season. As the net recoiled, the scorer ran, first toward the FCC bench grabbing the Crew crest on his heart, but then toward his coaches and teammates, who embraced the MLS All-Star.
The Cincinnati equalizer came three minutes later, however, when Ronald Matarrita took a touch and then smashed the ball toward Eloy Room’s back post. Porter said that “world-class” goal could be attempted 1,000 times and “they’d miss 999 of them, honestly.”
The visitors took the lead in the 74th minute when Isaac Atanga finished off a swift counter-attack, and once again, the Crew found themselves down 2-1 at home for the second time in a week.
But this instance felt different. While there was more time to respond, there was also a sense in the stadium that the Black & Gold attack still had unfinished business.
In the 81st minute, a long-range effort from Zelarayán was bobbled by Vermeer, and Berry, who continued his run, buried the ball for the equalizer. Then in the 82nd minute, he scored the game-winner from another rebound.
From there, the Crew hung on to snap the six-game losing streak, which was a club-record, and kept FC Cincinnati winless in its last 11 games – also a club-record.
“It’s a great team win, and I’m proud of the guys,” Porter said. “I’m just glad they got rewarded finally. We know we’re not out of the hole yet, but we’ve got to keep working. This is just win, one result.”
But it was an important win, and that wasn’t lost by anyone inside Lower.com Field. In post-match celebrations, players took turns personally thanking the Nordecke for its support during the past three weeks. Jonathan Mensah applauded the fans, while Zelarayán tossed his jersey 10 rows into the standing-room only section.
Twenty-two games into the season, the Crew still sits outside of the MLS Cup Playoffs, but only because of fewer wins than D.C. United. There’s a feeling that will change in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to take it one at a time,” Porter said. “I’m very confident we’re going to be in a playoff spot by the end of this (season), but we’re not taking anything for granted at all. Nothing is going to come easy; nothing is going to be given to us. We’ve got to work for it.”
Maybe “Wise Men Say” has sounded louder after previous games, but there are few moments when it’s felt more cathartic.