Columbus Crew SC is the fifth Eastern Conference team to clinch a MLS Cup playoff spot as the Black & Gold defeated D.C. United 2-0 this Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium. Center back Josh Williams and winger Justin Meram scored the goals that made Crew SC return to the postseason after being absent in 2016.
Undefeated in the last eight matches, Crew SC has now 50 points (15 wins, 12 losses, 5 ties) and ranks 5th in the East, holding a seven-point advantage to sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls. The final two matches of the regular season will determine the Black & Gold’s seed but one of the New York City FC, the Chicago Fire and the Atlanta United are likely to the be team’s opponents in the first round of the postseason.
The match marked the first time long-time Crew SC’s goalkeeper Steve Clark returned to Ohio after leaving the club in the end of the last season. But his former teammates did not extend him any courtesies as Clark was forced to work hard right in the beginning of the match.
In the second minute, the goalkeeper deflected a cross that would find Artur free in the box to avoid the goal. Clark was demanded again in the 10th minute, when Pedro Santos tried a shot from long range. Two minutes later, Meram fed Ola Kamara inside the box and the goalkeeper made a difficult save, closing the striker’s angle.
In the following corner kick, though, there was nothing Clark could do as Federico Higuain found Williams free in the penalty spot to head it to the back of the net. D.C. United had a good chance to the tie game at the 16th minute but Zack Steffen denied Deshorn Brown’s short-range finish.
Despite of the lead, Columbus kept the control of the game but was not as efficient in creating dangerous chances. D.C. United, in the other hand, seemed to connect a little better offensively and had a good opportunity before the halftime whistle in the 42nd minute, when Kofi Opare headed the ball close to the post.
Crew SC dominated possession in the start of the second half but it was D.C. who first came closer to score in a shot from Brown that Steffen deflected. In the 57th minute, though, Crew SC doubled the lead as Meram scored in a clinical shot from the left side of the box that hit the crossbar and went in.
The winger tried again from long range, this time in more of a central position, in the 67th minute, but his shot went wide. The solid advantage reduced the game’s pace and head coach Gregg Berhalter brought fullback Jukka Raitala and wingers Kekuta Manneh and Niko Hansen to the field to give the team some extra energy.
Kamara had a clear opportunity to make it a three-goal win in the 85th minute, but Clark deflected his finish. Artur also had a good chance in the 90th minute, but shot too high and the score remained as it was until the final whistle.
No Love for Clark
Steve Clark returned to MAPFRE Stadium less than a year after leaving Columbus Crew SC. During the week there were questions if the fans would welcome the goalkeeper back in Ohio with love or treat him in more of a “hostile” way. The answer came right after Josh Williams’ goal, when the Nordecke exploded singing “Steve says yes!” in a parody of the “Steve says no!” song they used to chant every time Clark made a good save in a Crew uniform.
When Defense Turns in to Offense
Josh Williams and Jonathan Mensah not only solidified Crew SC’s defense in the last stretch of game but they also became dangerous and effective offensive weapons for the Black & Gold. The defenders scored three of the last five goals of the team, all in set pieces and all assisted by Federico Higuain.
Artur Back in the Lineup
After a stretch of six matches where he either did not play of came off the bench, Artur regained its starting spot on Crew SC’s lineup against D.C. The Brazilian returned in good fashion as besides of brining his usual dynamism he also set Meram up in the team’s second goal to record his second assist in the season.
Crew SC played its last home match in the regular season against D.C. United. The Black & Gold were very effective playing at MAPFRE Stadium as the team recorded 12 wins, three losses and two ties, amassing 38 of its 50 points in the league in Ohio. After next week’s international break, Crew SC will try to improve its playoff seed in back-to-back road games against Orlando City SC, on October 15, and New York City FC, on the 22nd.