Following the Crew’s first victory at Lower.com Field, head coach Caleb Porter praised his players for a “really gutsy win” over New York City FC on Saturday night.
Defending for much of the first half, Columbus took the league three minutes into first-half stoppage time when Darlington Nagbe collected the ball wide on the right flank, dribbled in on goal, and chipped it into the net for the Black & Gold’s first lead in their new home.
The home side conceded minutes into the second half, but a sublime free kick from Lucas Zelarayán – his third free kick goal against NYCFC this season – earned the Crew three points and first win this month.
WATCH | A look at the Crew's first win at Lower.com Field
“We had 12 guys out,” Porter said after the victory. “Twelve guys. I mean, you can rattle off the names and that’s what makes this result even more incredible when you look at who’s not in there – Gyasi (Zardes), Luis Diaz, Artur, Milton (Valenzuela), Josh Williams, Harrison Afful, I mean it’s incredible that our guys were able to grind against a very, very good team, a talented team, well-coached team, and to find a way to win, find a way to get those three points.”
Using their 10th backline combination in only 13 league games, the Crew were bunkered into their lower block for large portions of the match. Porter said his side was expecting that and trained accordingly. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see the Crew weather wave after wave of NYCFC attacks before regaining possession and creating attacking opportunities on the other end.
While goalkeeper Eloy Room kept the visitors at bay with six saves, Zelarayán spearheaded the Columbus attack, which included a first MLS start for Miguel Berry. Zelarayán produced the game-winner in the 68th minute when his free kick curved away from NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza.
After the performance, Porter highlighted both his goal scorer and goalkeeper as the best in their respective positions.
“I said Lucas is, for me, the best player in the league, at least one of them, he’s up there,” Porter said reflecting on a comment he made last week against FC Cincinnati. “I think Eloy Room is the best goalkeeper in the league. People could argue a couple of other guys, no disrespect to those guys, I think Eloy for me, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. The guy is big time. He’s always steady, he always makes saves, he’s always up for it, a great guy, a great leader.
“You don’t find goalkeepers like him so that’s a massive signing for us to get him a couple of years ago. Especially losing Zack Steffen, and it’s such a good signing that no one even talks about Zack Steffen. That’s how good that signing was.”
With the win, the Crew can now turn attention toward a midweek matchup on Wednesday night against Nashville SC at Lower.com Field. From there, Columbus travels to Atlanta next Saturday for an afternoon affair.
The quick turnaround shouldn’t overlook the win over NYCFC, however. The 2-1 victory was the team’s first in its new venue, and the first since the Historic Crew Stadium finale on June 19.
“A really gutsy win. It’s great to get those first three points in the new stadium, hopefully it’s the first of many, we have 11 more after this game,” Porter said. “We want to get that feeling back in this stadium that we had in Historic Crew Stadium where we have a fortress where no one wants to come in and no one can get points off us – so it’s great to start to build that feeling.”