It took a few weeks for Columbus Crew SC to punch its ticket to the MLS Cup playoffs. The Black & Gold needed help from around the league to power them into the playoffs followed by a lengthy Decision Day match and a herculean effort for Gyasi Zardes to get the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their reward: a red-hot D.C. United squad. The Black and Red come into Thursday’s match unbeaten in their last 10 games of the season, and return home to Audi Field hungry to dispatch the Black & Gold from the postseason.
Former Manchester United and Everton great Wayne Rooney is proving that he still can play the beautiful game, stringing together masterful performances since joining the D.C. earlier this year. Coupled with the offensive firepower of Luciano Acosta and Yamil Asad up front, many feel that this match will be smooth sailing for D.C.
These original MLS rivals played twice earlier this year, splitting the season series. Crew SC claimed a 3-1 victory back on March 24th as Pedro Santos scored his first goal for the Black & Gold, and Ricardo Clark scored to seal the win for Crew SC.
The clubs met again three weeks later in Annapolis, Maryland while United’s new stadium was being finished. Former Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark turned in a great performance, earning the clean sheet against his former team. Ulises Segura scored the lone goal on the day to claim the victory for D.C.
The Rooney Effect
It’s undeniable the effect that England legend Wayne Rooney has had in D.C. since his arrival this summer. Many questioned his decision to join the struggling United squad, but it appears that the former Red Devil is having the last laugh. Since his arrival, the Black and Red have won 12 games and are unbeaten in their last 10. Prior to his arrival, United were basement dwellers in the Eastern Conference and had tasted victory only three times.
How Crew SC win
For Columbus to advance into the next round, the recipe is simple. The Black & Gold cannot take any mental breaks or allow easy goals to United. The Black and Red are too prolific on offense and even a small mistake can prove deadly. Crew SC needs more production from its attacking players.
Zardes proved he is capable of scoring this season, with 19 goals on the year, but the rest of the offense must step up to contribute. No doubt United will key in on the Crew SC forward as the match wears on, which will free up another Black & Gold attacker. But who will step up to make the most of their opportunity when the light shines brightest? That will help determine how this match goes and which team’s 2018 season continues.