When Miguel Berry stood at the halfway line 12 minutes into the second half on July 9, he was days removed from his second loan stint in the USL Championship and knew this MLS opportunity might not come again.
The Columbus Crew, who went down to 10 men in the first half, were trailing FC Cincinnati, 2-1, and needed a spark. Without one, they’d lose and give Cincinnati its first win inside TQL Stadium.
“Getting thrown in there, I knew this was going to be my opportunity, my shot that I’ve been waiting for,” Berry said of the moment. “I’ve been working for it, so I had to take it.”
We all know what happened next.
In the 77th minute, Berry collected the ball from Lucas Zelarayán and scored the equalizing goal, capping off a two-goal rally. His first MLS goal couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Black & Gold celebrated in enemy territory while Crew chants echoed in the rival’s stadium.
A month later, Columbus found itself trailing Cincinnati in the second half and again, Berry came in and made the difference. On that occasion, he scored twice in as many minutes to seal a 3-2 win inside Lower.com Field, leading to The Nordecke cheering his name.
By the time the season ended, Berry, who initially went from the fourth-string forward at the start of the year, transformed into the club’s biggest success story of the season, recording eight goals – including three in his last four games.
“Whenever you get a consistent run of games and consistent form, ideally you should be progressing more and more,” Berry said after the 2021 season. “I feel like I was doing that at the end of this season.
“My job is to show up every day and compete as much as possible. Whether it’s starting, which I would love to do, or coming off the bench and scoring, whatever it is, (I’ll do) whatever it takes for the team to win.”
Berry is living proof of several things, one of which being the value of the MLS SuperDraft. The other is players changing their fortune through hard work, consistency and maybe a little luck. (We all saw how he scored the game winner against FCC.)
“He started as a guy who could go in and find a goal,” head coach Caleb Porter said of Berry. “Then he got rewarded for that as a starter and didn’t look comfortable, but kept being comfortable off the bench. But then late in the year, he became comfortable, in my opinion, as a starter. He continued to improve and to produce.
“I told him now he has to take the next step of being a consistent stater who’s scoring goals when everybody knows you now and the defenders are worried about you and not underestimating you.”
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This is a rapid rise for the 24-year-old striker who was the seventh overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. During 2020 and portions of 2021, Berry was loaned San Diego Loyal SC in the USL Championship. In both seasons he scored three goals in seven appearances.
But during last summer, when injuries and the Concacaf Gold Cup depleted the Crew’s depth at forward, Berry came in and proved that he was not only a temporary solution, but one of the club’s important pieces entering 2022.
A week into the offseason, Porter said he views both Berry and USMNT international Gyasi Zardes as starters. For a team that often deploys a lone No. 9, that means either a formation change is looming or arguably the toughest position battle on the team awaits this preseason.
“I like the competition,” Porter said of Zardes and Berry. “I think we needed more competition (last) year … I see Miguel and Gyasi as starting players now, I really do … Miguel can be a starting player for us and a guy that can certainly score goals in his league. It’s going to be a fun competition."
If Berry proved anything a year ago, it’s his ability to be a difference maker. In 2022, he’s hoping his scoring form will carry over. Considering the amount of attacking options the club will have, that is a very realistic expectation.
“I want to compete for an MLS Cup and this is a club built to do that,” Berry said. “The results on the field weren’t there (last year), but for sure this club is built to do that. And if you want to play for (championship-caliber) clubs, you have to compete on the field.”
As for competing off the field, the Columbus Crew will be hoping to find another player of Berry’s potential on Tuesday during the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. The Crew have the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, which will last three rounds. (The club’s other two picks are No. 40 and No. 68.)
Berry is the latest example of the treasures that could await. Don’t forget the Crew also picked Chad Marshall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. Marshall went on to win the MLS Defender of the Year award in both 2008 and 2009 while guiding the Black & Gold to an MLS Cup in 2008 and three Supporters’ Shields.