Thanks to the fastest goal in Audi MLS Cup Playoffs history by Justin Meram and a late tap-in from Kei Kamara for his 25th goal in all competitions this season, Columbus Crew SC blanked the New York Red Bulls 2-0 at MAPFRE Stadium.
The win gives Crew SC the advantage heading to Red Bull Arena, where the Red Bulls will need to shut Crew SC out in at least a two-goal victory to advance to the MLS Cup.
In front of a packed house of fans who braved a cold Columbus night, Crew SC roared out to the fastest lead ever seen in a playoff game.
On a play they’ve run on nearly every kickoff this season, Wil Trapp played a long ball to Kamara, who played it on to Ethan Finlay. The winger bounced the ball off his head for a moment before it fell to Meram, who one-timed a blazing shot past Luis Robles to stun the Red Bulls and ignite the MAPFRE Stadium crowd.
New York wouldn’t stay stunned for long, launching several attacks immediately after the goal that tested goalkeeper Steve Clark. But in the wake of the opener, the Red Bulls couldn’t find a finish, putting only one of their eight first-half shots on frame.
Crew SC squandered its own share of opportunities in the remainder of the first half. Notably, Finlay found himself leading a two-on-one breakaway with Federico Higuain wide open on the inside of the field.
Instead of slotting a pass to Higuain, Finlay dribbled alongside Kemar Lawrence until the defender could make a fantastic tackle in the box to save a goal. Lawrence robbed Finlay of another goal when a Meram cross nearly found the winger streaking alone on goal, but the left back’s last-ditch slide tackle prevented a point-blank shot.
The second half was largely more of the same for both teams.
With all 22 men on the pitch in the same half for most of the second 45, it was a back-and-forth affair with both clubs creating half-chances and both sets of defenders making quality last-ditch efforts.
In the Columbus end, Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl dueled with Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam, but none of the New York attackers could find a comfortable chance in the Crew SC box.
But just when the match seemed to be stagnating, with both teams seemingly content with the scoreline, the spark Columbus needed to put the game away came from a likely source.
Cedrick Mabwati – who has built a reputation lately of bringing offense off of the Crew SC bench – entered the game in the 80th minute for Finlay, and made the impact Gregg Berhalter hoped.
Robles made a spectacular save with his right hand, but the ball fell directly to the league’s most prolific goalscorer, and Kamara calmly passed the ball into the open net for the clincher. It was his first goal against the Red Bulls this season.
Columbus takes a two-goal lead into Red Bull Arena as the two teams will play again next Sunday in the second leg (7:30 pm ET, FS1).