Even with limited training leading up to last Sunday's win over Nashville SC, Head Coach Caleb Porter said that given time, he was confident in his side's ability to pick Nashville's lock as the two sides eventually went the full 120 minutes.
Goal scorers Gyasi Zardes and Pedro Santos keyed that 2-0 victory with help from providers Luis Diaz and Lucas Zelarayan, the latter of whom tallied two secondary assists to increase his playoff assist total to three.
Of course, production from Zardes, Santos, and Zelarayan combined with a Crew win is very much par for the course this season, as Columbus has only lost once in 2020 when Zardes, Santos, and Zelarayan all start.
It makes sense, considering after all, the trio has accounted for 28 of Columbus's 41 total goals this season.
So, as fans and foes alike try to identify the "crux" of the team, it's difficult, to simply put it.
Darlington Nagbe continued his passing efficiency prowess in the most recent match with a game-high 91-percent passing accuracy (min. 50 passes) following his 93-percent mark against the New York Red Bulls.
Meanwhile, Zelarayan's already totaled three assists in two career playoff matches as Columbus is 5-0-0 when the Argentine provides a helper and an even better 6-0-0 when he scores. On top of that, the Crew is 9-1-2 this year when Zardes scores and 6-1-1 when Santos finds the back of the next.
If that wasn't enough, backup Andrew Tarbell filled in last Sunday and got his third shutout in seven starts this year, while starter Eloy Room's correlation to Columbus's success cannot be overstated, as the Black & Gold are 15-5-10 (including playoffs) when the Curacao international starts.
Since Room's first start back on July 20, 2019, the Crew is 13-2-3 at MAPFRE Stadium while outscoring opponents 34-14 and posting seven clean sheets.
The point being is that there is no "one-dimensional" aspect shrouding this Crew team currently, especially when we consider the fact that Columbus has conceded only 23 goals in 25 total matches to go with an 11-1-0 record at home this year.
Heading into Sunday's Eastern Conference Final, those aforementioned trends show no sign of slowing down with two matches down and two left to go.
Zardes and Zelarayan have both registered either a goal or an assist in each of the Club's last three matches, with Zardes totaling three goals and one assist in that span, including game-winning goals against Atlanta United (November 8) and the New York Red Bulls (November 21) as well as the game-winning assist against Nashville SC (November 29).
Similarly, Zelarayan has tallied one goal and three assists over his last three matches, including game-winning assists against the Red Bulls (November 21) and Nashville SC (November 29).
In reference to a question specifically about the Crew's No. 9 and No. 10, Porter spoke to the complete package Zardes and Zelarayan bring to the Crew.
"Obviously, there are different profiles in the number nine position, there are different profiles in the [number] 10 position. But we think we have the perfect profile in Gyasi at the nine with what we look for, both sides of the ball, in a very complete and multifaceted way and the same with Lucas," Porter said.
"There are 10’s out there that are creative like Lucas but very few 10’s that run as hard as him and work as hard as him and as humble as him and play for the team like him. So I think having those two guys perform, produce, but then also work hard defensively and help us press and defend — just the professionalism that they have, the humility that they have and the fact that they are team guys — is pretty rare in those positions."
Porter continued, explaining how their current level of play is no coincidence when it comes to the Crew's playoff run thus far.
"It’s nice to have your top players producing and in form and full of confidence. We wouldn’t be making the run we are making if it wasn’t for that," Porter said.
"There are a lot of hot teams right now ... but I think we are a hot team. We’ve won three in a row, we’ve won four out of the last five, and our players are full of confidence. We are defending well and we are scoring goals and that’s exactly the way you want it to happen. You want to be peaking at the right time in the postseason and that’s exactly what’s happened."
Now, Sunday's test against a road-proven New England team that went 5-4-1 away from Foxborough, Mass. during the regular-season is much different than hosting a Red Bulls side that went 3-3-4 on the road and an expansion Nashville team that played three matches and over 300 minutes in a 10-day span. On top of that, New England's coach, Bruce Arena, sports the most career postseason wins in MLS history (35) and a 71.7 postseason winning percentage.
That said, Porter's message following Sunday's win was succinct.
"I wouldn’t bet against my group."
Kickoff on Sunday is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN Deportes, with live radio coverage provided by 97.1 FM The Fan (English) and ColumbusCrewSC.com (Spanish).
For matchday safety information, attending supporters can find guidelines at ColumbusCrewSC.com/Safety.