Head Coach Caleb Porter
[We are] one step away [from winning MLS Cup]. That’s what I keep going back to. The job is not done. When we started this tournament, we wanted to make four steps. We have made three of the four. I know the guys in that locker room are really happy to put the Eastern Conference championship trophy in the trophy case - that’s what it is about - but there’s a much bigger trophy, the MLS Cup trophy, that we have our eye on. We expected to be here in this position, we believed we could be here, and now we have the opportunity to play a home game to become MLS Cup champions. We know it is going to be a very difficult opponent [in MLS Cup], but I love where our group is at. [We have] four wins in a row and two clean sheets in a row. Always, in these tournament games, it is tight and for us to be able to grind out a clean sheet tonight, especially against a very good attacking team [is remarkable]. We should have scored more goals. If it wasn’t for [Matt] Turner, we would have. I thought he was the man of the match today, but I didn’t think the result was ever in question.
I thought we, again, took the game over [in the] second half. We dominated, we did our thing, got on the ball, pressed, possessed and sealed-off every counter [attack]. Late [in the match], we had to make a few plays in the box, which you are always going to do, but these guys have become winners. They’ve become winners and I told them that in the locker room. They have evolved from good players into winners. It’s a credit to the group because we have two very creative players that help us play football, but I think what I’m most proud of is when we don’t have the ball, how hard they work. I’m talking [about] guys like Lucas Zelarayan who’s one of the most special players I have coached. He works, he works and works and works. With Darlington Nagbe, Pedro [Santos] and Gyasi [Zardes], these guys work and it is hard to get guys that are good attacking players to work. I think that has been the real difference this year: We’re balanced. We’re good on the ball but obviously, we’re a good defensive team. That’s usually what makes the difference is the balance, we’re a very balanced team. We are going to need that in the final because we are going to face a very good attacking team. We will know our opponent tomorrow, but if you look at Seattle [Sounders FC] and Minnesota [United FC], both teams have really good attacking players, so that defensive side is going to be just as important as how we keep the ball, how we attack and how we score goals.
On how he gets players in his squad to buy into his system
You yell at them a lot - everyday - and during the games if you hear me [laughs].
It goes with the buy-in as well. I am a passionate guy. I am a guy that loves my players. It usually takes a little bit of time for guys to get me. It’s tough love. I push guys. I’m very demanding. But I am very caring for them as people and, eventually, they realize that I am only trying to make them better. If they buy into that, then they become the best player that they can become. That’s my goal for every player. I do this for the players. I do this to make them better and I do this so that they can have the feeling they’re having in the locker room right now. Because as a player, you only get a short window and then you’re done - whether it is 30 or 32 or 35 [years old]. I want them to look back on their time together with me and the clubs that we’re in and feel good about it. And also, feel like we developed relationships and friendships that will last forever. As maybe, fluffy, as that sounds, I think that it’s important. It’s really important in life.
On the expectations that he places on Jonathan Mensah
I think, again, there are different ways to coach and lead, but the way I coach, I love my players -- I mean that. They mean a lot to me and I care about them as people, and that’s what motivates me to give what I give. I’ve gotten real close with [Jonathan], I think he’s an unbelievable person, one of the best people you’ll ever meet. [He] just [has] a big heart, really good guy, a really special leader. He has been nine months without his wife - maybe longer - he hasn’t seen his wife in 10 months. I couldn’t imagine being 10 months without my wife. The fact that he goes home everyday alone and comes to training and just rolls his sleeves up, he’s just unbelievable. I joke with him that he’s going to be the President of Ghana one day, he has that type of quality.
Defender Josh Williams
On what was important for Crew SC to do defensively to limit Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou defensively
I think it's so important to get numbers around guys like that. You know? Both of them are just, as a center back those guys keep you up at night. When I’m watching film on these guys at night I’m thinking “man, they can get to any spot on the field they want,” you know? They can move without the ball which makes it even more dangerous. But to have guys like Artie [Artur], D [Darlington Nagbe], Pedro [Santos] and Lucho [Luis Diaz], to have those guys so willing to take the two-three extra steps to slide back, to cut off passing lanes and to track guys down... and [when] they’re running at guys, they beat a couple of guys off the dribble but then the next guy would come through and poke it away. It was just the anticipation from everyone, you can tell we were locked in as a back unit. Caleb [Porter] said after the game it’s not just the back four, it’s not just the midfield, it starts with G [Gyasi Zardes] and it works its way back. I think our team defending has been exceptional the whole year, you know? I think guys like G [Gyasi Zardes] - he scores a lot of goals but the amount of work that guy does defensively is insane. The same goes with Pedro [Santos], Lucho [Luis Diaz] and the guy sitting to my right here [Artur] - [he] is an absolute animal. It has just been a pleasure to play with him. We picked him off the streets of Brazil a couple years ago [laughs]. He’s an absolute animal, him and D [Darlington]. So, it’s fun out there. I call it hunting, we hunt as a unit. That’s what we’ve been doing so far.
On the performance by Crew SC’s midfield trio
That’s our engine. Those guys are our engine. Those guys get our team moving. I think Caleb [Porter] made it a great point. So many times you see guys who - I’ve never left this league, so I can only speak to this league - big name players like Lucas [Zelarayan] come in, and they only want to work on one side of the ball. To have guys who work on both sides of the ball, and work tirelessly, and as good as Lucas, Darlington [Nagbe] and Artur are on the ball - I swear, they just get out of situations that you just don’t see very often. These guys are magicians with the ball in the way they can manipulate it, and stop-start. On top of that, they’re great passers. To have these three guys in front of me who are so gifted on one side of the ball, but as soon as the ball is turned over, they’re animals that are hunting, they’re beasts. You can tell there’s an edge to them on the defensive side of the ball. I think that’s so important to team success. [If] Lucas did not play defense, he could have all of the goals and the assists that he wants, but I don’t think we [Crew SC] are here. I don’t think if Darlington and Artie [Artur] only cared about one side of the ball, I don’t think that our team is in this position. You want to work for guys like that, and I think that the [Crew SC] front office completely knocked it out of the park with these signings. I couldn’t be happier to have a teammate like that, who cares so much on both sides of the ball.
On his role as a defensive leader for Crew SC
I don’t ever do this for me, so I think what’s so important is to be a good teammate. When we brought in Vito [Wormgoor] - obviously I want to play every game, but that guy is a baller. I knew it right away, so I knew that I would have to play exceptionally just to get time on the field. I could have either pouted about it and threw a fit because I thought I should be playing, or I could accept the situation and keep working, keep supporting him and keep supporting teammates and pushing guys at training. That, to me, is what wins championships. That, to me, is not only being a good teammate, but just being a good person. I think we have very good people on this team. I think the front office has done another good job with that, just surrounding this locker room with good people. Not every time you can be on a team and start. I’ve had ups and downs in my career, and I’ve made it a point to always be a good teammate, and tell guys like Bouba [Aboubacar Keita], tell guys like Aidan [Morris] [to] step up. You have to earn the right to be on the field. You have to earn the right to be in that 11, and I think if you throw a fit and you pout about it, that doesn’t help you at all, that only puts you behind the eight-ball even more. So when Vito went down, I knew it was going to be me and Bouba - whoever stepped up. I think Bouba has done an incredible job, [and] he’s still learning. [I think] that guy picked up soccer like three months ago, it’s insane [laughs]. His trajectory is wild. I talk to him all the time, I talk to all of the young guys and say, “Look, no matter what your situation is, whether you are playing or not, be a good teammate, work your butt off week in and week out. It’s a privilege to be chosen, and you have to accept the situation. You’re never going to get anything out of it except negative stuff if you become a sulking teammate.” I’m proud of myself looking back on it. You arrive each day and you’re blessed to even be considered a soccer player. You’re a professional soccer player, you’re living your dream. So show up, work hard, and it’s a privilege to be chosen. I’m lucky to be in this position, and I’m trying to make the best of it.
On Crew SC players buying into Caleb Porter’s system
I think it was that he [Caleb Porter] put into our minds the importance of winning duels and winning tackles; how important it is to do that in a game. In our perspective, it makes a big difference now. We can see that when we win the duels, [we] become stronger and when we do our job, it makes the game easier both defensively and offensively. It’s just amazing that everybody bought into that and has been working on that and we have seen where it can take us.
On Jonathan Mensah’s leadership
He has been amazing. [Jonathan] has stepped up as captain and he has been doing a very good job. He’s an example [to the team], he tries to be a good example. He respects everybody and everybody respects him, and I think that’s a very important thing. Also on the field, it’s a great advantage for us. I think he has had a great season, a very good season. He deserves the [MLS Best XI Award] he got. He has played a very important part in the whole season and where we are at now. I’m just very happy for him and very happy to be in this group right now. I think we have something special, and I think we are not done yet.