It took 99 minutes for Columbus to break through in Sunday's Eastern Conference Semifinals victory, and a key to chipping away at Nashville SC's compactness was the speed and work ethic from young winger Luis Diaz.
The 21-year-old's goal production hasn't reached his 2019 mark, but Head Coach Caleb Porter expressed that regardless of Diaz's goal-scoring drought, he is witnessing Diaz's day-by-day maturation as a more complete player, and Sunday's performance showcased just that.
"I thought Luis Diaz really brought that penetration that we needed," said Porter. "He had a lot of really good moments and I think he was rewarded with that second goal from a great cross."
ASSIST | Diaz weighs the pass perfectly for Zardes vs. Nashville SC
This year, Diaz has registered four assists, most notably with one coming against Supporters' Shield-winning Philadelphia and another at the Seattle Sounders back on March 7.
With nearly twice as many shots registered as last season, the winger is still searching for his first goal in 2020. That said, Diaz's up-and-down year, as Porter put it, has been part of a process of still getting accustomed to a complex Crew system.
"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," explained Porter, who went on to say, "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."
Diaz tallied a co-game-high four key passes (including assists) and was seemingly always an outlet threat in transition on the right flank as seen below by his average position, all while registering a team-high 12 crosses from open play and keeping an eye out for that patented curling delivery for Zardes.
In terms of effort, the Crew's 2019 addition put in over full match's worth of work, eventually subbing off for Emmanuel Boateng in the 109th minute. For someone categorized as a speedy offensive threat, Porter made note of Diaz's defensive shift.
"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," said Porter.
"Every single time he got the ball he was a threat and that’s what we need out of him."
Up next, it's Columbus vs. New England in the Eastern Conference Final, which is set to take place on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. The match will be televised on ABC and ESPN Deportes, with live radio coverage on 97.1 FM The Fan (English) and ColumbusCrewSC.com/liveaudio (Spanish).