Columbus Crew SC shook off rain, lightning, wind, and some bad defense to defeat Minnesota United 3-2 and secure their spot in the MLS Cup playoff. Gyasi Zardes recorded his first career hat trick to salvage all three points for the Black & Gold.
Neither side was able to get into a rhythm at the start and a lightning storm early in the half would halt play in the 10th minute. The stoppage would last an hour and eight minutes, sending the fans seeking cover in a rare fall thunderstorm.
The stoppage didn’t slow down Columbus. They struck quickly after the game resumed. Federico Higuain sent in a low driving service that was cleared out Milton Valenzuela sent in the second ball and found a well marked Zardes to put Columbus up 1-0 in the 11th minute.
Crew SC nearly added another one minutes later when Higuain played the ball to Justin Meram who sent it on to Valenzuela. The left back sent a ball curing into the box. The Loons defense deflected and Lampson would have to parry the ball wide.
After the big push after the bread the game started to slow down. The Loons would have more of the ball, but wouldn’t test Zack Steffen as their four first half goals where blocked by the stalwart Columbus defense or went wide.
The big action would come right before the half with Angelo Rodríguez bearing down on the Crew SC goal. He quickly passed by Josh Williams and took on Steffen. Gaston Sauro slid in to tackle the ball away and colided with Steffen. Rodriguez then caught Steffen in the head and collapsed to the ground. Rodriguez would have to be substituted while Steffen sported a large knot on his head, but stayed in.
Columbus would start strong in the second half, pressuring the United goal. It would be a long distance free kick from Federico Higuain in the 49th minute that lead to the second goal. Higuain powered a shot at Matt Lampson who was unable to corral the ball. Zardes hammered the ball home from close range to double the lead.
The Loons would cut the lead in the 68th minute on some poor Crew SC defense. Darwin Quintero sent in a long free kick and found a wide open Francisco Calvo. He took a touch and turned on the ball and fired it home. The Columbus defense failed to track Calvo’s run and made it easy for the visitors.
Columbus would let Minnesota back into the game with another sloppy defensive display. Collin Martin sent in a hopeful pass, but failed to connect. The Crew SC defense failed to clear and Calvo would clean up and tie the game 2-2 in the 77th minute.
It would be Zardes again that secured the win for Columbus. Niko Hansen took the ball to the touchline and cut the ball back sharply and it was redirected past a helpless Lampson to restore the lead in the 83rd minute.
The Black & Gold wouldn’t let the lead slip again as they held the visitors to a single long range shot after taking the lead.
Decision Day saw 11 games kick off at once, but the hour plus delay meant that the team would know their playoff fate by halftime. With Montreal’s loss in New England, Columbus knew they had clinched a spot. That took some of the anxiety out of the situation, but also appeared to take some of the sharpness out of the home team. Columbus struggled with focus and despite having a 2-0 lead, they let United back into the game. Focus
The Crew SC offense has been absent in the second half, but they had 18 shots with six on target in route to three goals on the night. It was the first three goal game since July 28th against the Red Bulls. Zardes scored all three to increase his season total to 19. They were classic Zardes goals as he made the right runs and scored on high percentage chances. His trade to Columbus revitalized his career as he records his career best goal total.
With the win Columbus finished the regular season with 14 wins, 11 losses, and 9 ties and 51 points. They have captured the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and now head to Washington D.C. to face D.C. United in a midweek knockout game on Wednesday or Thursday.