Head Coach Caleb Porter
I’d like to start off by congratulating Nashville [SC] for a tremendous season. They were a very difficult opponent for us today and honestly, they gave us all we could handle. I want to credit their coach, Gary Smith, who has done an excellent job. [Credit] Mike Jacobs for building their roster and then their players for fighting all season long. What a year for them, an expansion team. [They were] a club that people didn’t talk a ton about or expect too much from but I think it would be remiss for me to not mention or credit the players and the coaches for a great season.
As far as my group, I couldn’t be more proud. We knew coming into these playoffs it was four steps. We’ve made two, [so] we’re halfway there. This was another difficult game. It was a game where we had to win a lot of duels, defend set pieces, defend crosses and try to break down a very organized block of players, and it wasn’t easy. I thought we were very patient and I thought, [in] the second half, we dominated the game. Even though we didn’t find the goal in the second half, I thought we wore them down. I think good teams, in games like these, they eventually find a way, and I think our attacking players, their quality eventually allowed us to break the deadlock. I also would say that our defenders - and that’s not just the back four, although I thought our back four were excellent today - I thought our team defending and ability to keep us in the game to defend transition - defending all these little moments that are big moments - [was excellent], until we were eventually able to find that first goal, and what a first goal. Lucas Zelarayan [with] the pass, Gyasi [Zardes with] the run and pass, and then the finish from Pedro [Santos]. Then the second goal from Luis Diaz to Gyasi - our front four. It wasn’t the cleanest or the most perfect [match]. Obviously, we didn’t have any training this week, so a little bit of that showed - that chemistry. But, those players, they’ve got quality and if you give them enough time, they’re eventually going to pick the lock and find the goal and I thought they did that.
On the process of building Crew SC for success
I’ve coached [for] twenty years - thirteen of those were in college. As a head coach, it has been three clubs that I’ve been with: [University of] Akron, Portland [Timbers] and now the Crew. I’m a guy that likes to pick projects that fit me, fit my family and the community I want to live in. It’s always about going into - whether it’s Akron or Portland or now Columbus - it’s going into these communities and doing something special and making history and igniting the community. I’ve always felt strongly that it has to be the right fit for me. Last year was a tough year - a tough transition. It was a different type of transition for me, but I think you saw [from] mid-season on, that we started to get the group on board with the way that we do things, the way that we run our culture, the way that we play - game model - and I think that has continued into this year.
It makes me proud to be in a position here in year two where we can have a chance to put a trophy in the trophy case, [but] we’re not there yet. The group is really hungry, they’re very business-like. They weren’t celebrating in that locker room - not one bit. They can’t wait to get back here next Sunday [to play] against New England [Revolution] at home, to punch their ticket to MLS Cup. That’s not going to be an easy game. They’ve got a lot of experience in [head coach] Bruce Arena and in their team, and it’s going to be a battle. But, I wouldn’t bet against my group. They really love being here. I love my team. It’s a simple thing, but I have to love the city that I live in, I have to love the players that I have. When that happens, eventually good things happen. I’m hoping it’s this year, we’ll see. But regardless, I’m really proud of the steps we’ve made this year.
On unsettling Nashville SC’s defense
When teams play the low block and they have 10 players 30 yards from goal, it’s difficult to find space central[ly]. We found a few good moments there, through Lucas [Zelarayan] and through Darlington [Nagbe] but it’s tough to score in that way. We had a few shots from distance, you usually are going to have to - versus that type of compact block - you’re going to have to get around the edges. I thought Luis Diaz really brought that penetration that we needed. He had a lot of really good moments and I think he was rewarded with that second goal from a great cross. [Luis Diaz] worked really hard as well. People forget that he’s a young player and he has had a little bit of an up and down year in his second year. He’s still learning, he’s still becoming a complete player and our system is very complex on both sides of the ball in what we ask our players to do. There are a lot of details in it and there have been some times where he [Luis Diaz] has been a little bit paralyzed because there are so many things he’s thinking about. I think that even though he hasn’t really produced as many goals this year, he’s really made a lot of progress in becoming a complete player. I thought today he defended really well, which hasn’t always been his strength, but he put a shift in there and he was dangerous all night. Every single time he got the ball he was a threat and that’s what we need out of him.
On Crew SC’s goals against Nashville SC
Like you said, Nashville [SC] is a very organized team, so sometimes it is kind of hard to break them down. They had a few chances and opportunities throughout the game, but we had more during the extra time. On the first one, I saw that one of the defenders stepped out. I told Lucas [Zelarayan] to play it down the line. I said it in Spanish and sure enough, he played it down the line. I knew if I started dribbling towards goal a lot of guys would be crashing into the box. And sure enough, I picked my head up and saw Pedro [Santos] running, put it right there in front of him and got the goal on that one.
Then on the second one, I love to find Lucas then run. So, I did that. I found Lucas and then I started running towards the goal. And sure enough, Luis Diaz, played an amazing through ball which allowed me [to score] the second goal for our team. It was a great night tonight.
On leaving a legacy
Playoff soccer is not going to be perfect. It is not going to be beautiful. At the same time, we had a couple of COVID cases in the previous week, which meant we couldn’t touch the ball for a couple of training sessions. We have been dealing with this this whole year. That is why it is such a special year. It motivates us even more to try to leave a legacy this year.
On facing former head coach Bruce Arena in the Eastern Conference Final
Like you said, Bruce is a very experienced coach, especially in playoff soccer. If you look at his track record, [and] all of the games that he has won during playoff season, he prepares a good team. I am actually excited to face him. We both were at [LA] Galaxy and now, we both are at two new organizations outside of Galaxy. I am just excited to face New England, especially for the fact [that] they beat Philly [Philadelphia Union]. They beat Orlando [City SC]. So, it is going to be great to have another home game and face one of the best teams in the East, because you always want to play against the best teams. It will be two of the best teams in the East playing each other for the [Eastern Conference] final.
On what Gyasi Zardes brings to Crew SC’s attack
He has [been] doing an amazing job all year. We know he’s a guy who can fight in the air, he can hold the ball and sometimes it’s important for us when we play one touch. He’s doing very very well in his work. Also, we know we can play behind the defense because he’s fast, he can run and he’s very good all the time - with and without the ball. For us, it’s very important to have a guy like him because he helps us a lot on attack and on defense too. He’s showing all the qualities [he has]: He helps us defend, he can assist and he scores goals. I’m very happy for him to do this job right now because we need him.
On his confidence and Crew SC’s confidence
Obviously, with the other guys who bring quality and help the team, we look for the signs and see the guys battle. It brings confidence for the team. We know we have a very good team and we believe in everybody. Also, Lucho [Luis Diaz] this game, he came to the [starting] 11 and he did very well. We know that he can help the team and he did assist. So, we believe in everybody. In Lucas [Zelarayan], in Gyasi [Zardes], in Lucho, in Derrick [Etienne, Jr.], and also in Artur. They’re doing well in all the games and I think one of our strengths is to believe and come together like a family. We are fighting for the trophy and we know we can believe in everybody.
On breaking down Nashville
We knew that they have a very good team and [that] they are very organized on defense. We talked and agreed we needed to be patient and try to score the first goal. After the first goal they tried to push forward, we found space and we scored the second goal in transition. So, obviously, we knew that if we scored the first goal we could create more opportunities and then [could] try to kill the game. We scored the second goal and we had a couple more opportunities to score more. So obviously we did a very good job on defense but also being patient under attack too.