As the final seconds of the 2021 season ticked away, the unseasonably warm air filled with drums beating, chants being sung, and a singular trumpet playing, all in celebration of the Columbus Crew’s 2-0 win over Chicago Fire FC.
The celebrations, however, weren’t for another opportunity to compete for a second-straight MLS Cup, as the Crew missed the postseason by one point. Instead, they were sounds of gratitude of a season of memories, and of hope for what can come in 2022.
In a game where the Crew needed to win, it did so, convincingly. In doing so, Sunday's result reminded everyone how the Black & Gold were one of the hottest teams in the League. Unfortunately, the Club can’t prove it in the playoffs.
And so, that was what left the players feeling differently than the supporters, who gave them an ovation in Lower.com Field one last time this year. While fans led chants, players looked frustrated and annoyed. Lucas Zelarayán even wiped away tears.
“I always say on the first day of preseason to every team that I coach in the league that we’re about to embark on a 10-month season where every single game matters and every point matters and usually it comes down to the last day,” head coach Caleb Porter said.
“Most years, that’s what happens in this league with the parity, and sure enough, it came down to the last day, and we missed the playoffs by a point. I think when you get that close, and when you’re in the form that we’re in, it makes it hurt even worse.”
Knowing they needed a lot of luck – and goals – for a shot in the postseason, the Black & Gold started the game attacking the Fire backline and created one chance after another on Sunday afternoon.
Zelarayán eventually broke the deadlock in the 30th minute when he collected the ball inside the box, rounded a defender, and hammered the ball past Gabriel Slonina.
Miguel Berry then added another in the 58th minute when his goal was initially waved off before VAR decision overturned the initial call.
From there, the Crew continued to bombard the Chicago goal, finishing with 29 shots.
And with that, Columbus finished the 2021 regular season with 47 points. With the two goals scored against the Fire, the Crew finished with a +1 goal differential.
“I think we played really well today,” Porter said. “Again, it’s kind of a little bit of a mind-screw because sure we wanted to see seven goals, but at the end of the day, we needed those other results to happen. We won the game, had the most shots we’ve had the entire year, we played extremely well, we got a clean sheet, should have scored three or four more goals.”
What follows next is a long offseason before preseason training begins in 2022. By then, the Crew roster will have different names and faces, but the Club’s standards and expectations will remain.
In a season filled with mixed emotions, multiple competitions, and the opening of a new stadium, the Crew ended its season finale in the same fashion that left Historic Crew Stadium earlier this year: a dos a cero over their rival.
“Next year starts tomorrow,” Porter said. “Obviously, the players will have a little bit of a break, we’ll do meetings next week. We’ve got a really good core that we can build off of, which is a positive. But we also need to add to that core; we need to improve. Again, when you look at some of the offseason signings, it’s on all of us, that’s not on (President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko), that’s on me, that’s on everyone, we’re all collaborative on that.”