Columbus Crew SC had a chance to continue a what had been a dream postseason in Harrison, New Jersey but fell flat as the New York Red Bulls ended up with a comfortable 3-0 win (3-1 on aggregate) to end the Black & Gold’s 2018 season.
New York struck first with a free kick routine from midfield in the 16th minute. Sean Davis sent the ball to the back post and find Daniel Royer. The winger headed the ball square. Aaron Long got on the second ball and clipped it towards goal. The effort hit Alex Muyl’s boot and redirected past Jonathan Mensah and Zack Steffen to make it 1-0 and even the series at 1-1.
The goal unsettled Crew SC while the Red Bulls were revived. The home side pressed ferociously and Columbus desperately struggled to break past the waves of pressure. For the 15 minutes ofter the goal, the Black & Gold couldn’t get into the offensive third as the press suffocated any attack that even got near the halfway line.
The Red Bulls’ press relented slightly within 10 minutes of halftime and Crew SC were able to create a half chance. Pedro Santos was able to get a ball out from between two defenders and slip a pass into Harrison Afful. His one-touch cross was headed wide by Gyasi Zardes.
Crew SC came back into the game as the Red Bull press relaxed. The team had survived the onslaught after the goal and found a couple chances. Winger Justin Meram found some space on the left channel and attempted to connect on a couple “Meathooks,” but his shots found goalkeeper Luis Robles’ hands and clipped a Red Bull defender in consecutive possessions.
Columbus found the same momentum to start the second half continued to find spaces in the Red Bulls’ defense. They carried the possession, but failed to turn it into chances. Only Gaston Sauro and Jonathan would get off shots — and they are defenders — as Columbus tried to turn the score in Crew SC’s favor.
With the Black & Gold holding the momentum through the second half, New York would turn the game and end the series with a four-minute stretch.
The home side broke through with a string of possession and passing that split the Crew SC defense. Bradley Wright-Phillips found Muyl at the top of the 18-yard box. He then slipped the ball to Tyler Adams as Royer drifted away from the defense and found himself alone in the penalty box. Adams located him and it was an easy finish from 15 yards out to make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute.
The Red Bulls shut the door on any comeback in the 77th minute off a Crew SC turnover. The playmaking Kaku slipped a pass to Royer who split the defense and fired a shot from 20 yards past Steffen to make it 3-0 and 3-1 on the series. Columbus would need two goals to get back in the game.
They wouldn’t get it. Gregg Berhalter and the coaching staff looked to change the game by bringing in Patrick Mullins, Luis Argudo and Cristian Martinez but the damage was done. Harrison Afful pushed a shot over the bar from close range and a Mullins header was tipped and carom off the crossbar. The Red Bulls handled the final push and sealed the win, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta United.
A half in three styles
Both New York and Columbus appeared nervous to open the game. Through the first 15 minutes, both teams combined to connect on 53 percent of their passes. Then the Red Bulls broke through with the goal and New York unleashed ferocious pressure. In the 20 minutes after the goal, the visiting had six passes in the attacking half. Then the press wilted and Columbus came back with four shots in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Not for Crew SC, but this may be the last game for Berhalter, Steffen, Wil Trapp and other Columbus players. Berhalter is heavily linked with the open U.S. National Team head coaching job. European teams are scouting Steffen and Crew SC has already declined a bid. If Trapp is going to test the waters overseas, now is likely the time. It’s not hard to see this as the end of an era.
There’s always next year. That wasn’t always certain.