When Thursday comes, Jonathan Mensah will be one of several Columbus Crew SC players debuting in the MLS Cup playoffs as the team faces Atlanta United at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But don’t get it wrong, the 27-year-old center back is more than used to elimination games and the big stage.
A regular on Ghana’s National Team since 2009, Jonathan has played in two FIFA World Cups and in multiple editions of the African Cup of Nations. His international pedigree gives the defender a clear understanding about what he and his teammates are about to face.
“It is an exciting game to play and a very intense one,” Jonathan said. “You either win it or you go home, so you need to leave everything on the field. The preparation is definitely different. You need to be ready for anything, as the match can be decided during extra time or in penalty kicks. We have to be strong mentally and if we have a chance, we have to make sure we score.”
Crew SC’s Designated Player was actually part of one of the most memorable elimination matches ever played in a World Cup, when Ghana was knocked off by Uruguay in the quarterfinals in South Africa in 2010.
With the score at 2-2 in the second half of extra time, Luis Suarez used his hands to block a shot of Stephen Appiah that was about to cross the goal line and give the Africans the win. However, the Ghanaians not only missed the penalty kick but were also defeated in the subsequent shootout to exit the tournament.
“I learned a lot from that game. It was a game we should have won, but whatever happened we moved on. It was tough going to penalties after that and losing it. That’s why I say that if we have a chance we have to score,” he added.
In Atlanta, Jonathan and Crew SC will not play a World Cup game, but the atmosphere is expected to a factor as the expansion franchise has dragged over 400,000 people in eight matches to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Over 70,000 fans are expected in the club’s first-ever postseason match.
As someone who has played in World Cups, though, Jonathan knows what needs to be done.
“As players, we want to have as many fans as possible in our matches,” the two-time World Cup veteran stated. “It is going to be loud, that’s for sure, but we can’t focus on it. We just need to focus on our game plan. We know why we are traveling there and it is to win the game.”
Atlanta United has been a tough rival for Crew SC, handing the Black & Gold road (3-1) and home (2-0) losses between June and July. However, as people say, it’s the playoffs now and anything can happen.
“The regular season is over, so whatever happened before does not matter,” Jonatan concluded. “It’s a playoff game and we will have a different approach to it. Playing on turf, they are going to be fast so we need to be compact and defend well.”