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Crew SC complete three-goal, second half comeback to tie Toronto FC

One of the most remarkable comebacks in team history leads to a draw and a Trillium Cup win.

Sam Fahmi

What did Gregg Berhalter have to say after Columbus Crew SC’s epic comeback against Toronto FC?

Posted by Massive Report on Saturday, June 2, 2018

Without captain Wil Trapp and goalkeeper Zack Steffen due to international duty, center back Jonathan Mensah and winger Pedro Santos due to injury and another winger in Cristian Martinez out because of suspension, Saturday night’s match against defending MLS Cup Champions Toronto FC was always going to be difficult. Columbus Crew SC made it more difficult, going down 3-0 before the 60th minute.

But, as fans have seen from this Black & Gold team this year, there is a lot of fight in the group. Columbus battled back, scoring three unanswered over the final 27 minutes of the match to earn a point in one of the craziest matches in recent Crew SC memory and seal the Trillium Cup.

The match started slowly with both sides willing to feel each other out. Crew SC winger Niko Hansen had the best chance early for the home side in the 11th minute, collecting a pass from central midfielder Ricardo Clark and rocketing a shot toward goal, but his effort was high.

In the 16th minute, the Black & Gold handed Toronto the opening goal when Artur brought down TFC midfielder Ryan Telfer in the penalty area and referee Nima Saghafi awarded the visitors the penalty kick. Toronto’s Victor Vazquez stepped and sent backup goalkeeper Jon Kempin the wrong way for the early 1-0 lead.

Perhaps the best chance of the opening 45 minutes for the home side came in nearly self-destructive fashion for Toronto. On a 20th minute Columbus corner kick, a ball deflected off TFC defender Jason Hernandez and forced goalkeeper Alex Bono to make a quick reaction save.

Although the Black & Gold were the team trailing, it was the Reds who were the aggressor for much of the first half. Just seven minutes from the break, that aggression paid off as Toronto took a 2-0 lead. Sebastian Giovinco found space in front of the Crew SC penalty area. His presence on the ball pulled center back Josh Williams up the field and opened space for a pass to Vazquez running into the penalty area. The Spaniard’s low cross went under Lalas Abubakar and was dispatched away by substitute Tosaint Ricketts.

While Columbus came out of the locker room showing a bit more life, the energy coming out of the break did not last long. After Williams hauled down Giovinco in order to prevent a free run into the penalty area, the diminutive Italian stepped up and curled the free kick into the top corner for a 3-0 lead.

In the 63rd minute, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter sent a message to his team, making three changes when he brought on Alex Crognale, Luis Argudo and Eduardo Sosa for Abubakar, Hansen and Mike Grella. The move worked, as the Black & Gold switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation and pushed numbers forward, generating the most attacking play of the night.

In the 67th minute, Columbus pulled on back thanks to leading scorer Gyasi Zardes. The forward rose above everyone on the field to head home a Federico Higuain corner kick. All of a sudden there was belief for Crew SC.

The Black & Gold weren’t done and in the 81st minute, the team pulled another one back. This one also came from a set piece, as Higuain sent a free kick into the penalty area. A Williams header was trapped by TFC captain Michael Bradley, but his touch went long and Crognale was there to fire the shot home.

Just like that, the game was back on.

There was a clear feeling in MAPFRE Stadium that Crew SC might pull this one out as the crowd came alive. The team lived off the energy in the stadium that was absent in the first half.

With just two minutes remaining, Zardes left his mark again. After being played through, Zardes took on Bradley one on one near the end line. The striker was tripped up by the Toronto captain and Saghafi pointed to the spot for the second time on the night. Higuain stepped up and buried the penalty to pull the game level.

Three minutes of stoppage later and the final whistle sounded. The Black & Gold pulled off one of the best comebacks in team history. While it’s not a win, Columbus will certainly take the three-goal comeback and a draw over the alternative and extended the team’s unbeaten run to eight games.

Biggest comeback in team history

According to ESPN’s Paul Carr, this game “is the first time in team history that Columbus has gotten a point after trailing by 3 goals in an MLS game.” This has not been confirmed by the club yet, but, assuming Carr is correct, this makes the comeback that much more remarkable.

Crew SC is in its 23rd season and had never overcome a three-goal deficit... Well they have now.

The change in tactics

Gregg Berhalter continues to push the right buttons with this team in 2018. Whether it’s making changes to get a 0-0 draw on the road while playing down a man or making three changes in the 63rd minute to change this match, Berhalter just gets it.

On Saturday, he also switched the team from its traditional 4-2-3-1 formation into the 3-4-2-1, willing to take the risk and push numbers forward to try and get a result that seemed lost. Many managers would have admitted defeat and looked ahead to the next match, but not Berhalter.

Missing pieces

Both teams came into this match depleted, Toronto due to injuries and Crew SC because of injuries, a suspension and international call-ups. Key pieces such as Wil Trapp, Zack Steffen and Jonathan Mensah were felt in the first 60 minutes of the match. But once again, this team found a way to show its depth and fight through adversity, to get a draw that feels like a win.

What’s next

Crew SC’s focus will quickly shift to the U.S. Open Cup, as the Black & Gold take on the Chicago Fire on Wednesday. That game will be at MAPFRE Stadium and kickoff at 7 p.m. ET.