When a coach sends a center back on to the field in the second half of a match, most of the times he’s not trying to make his team better offensively. That, however, was exactly the case last Saturday, when Columbus Crew SC’s head coach Gregg Berhalter subbed Alex Crognale in against Toronto FC in the 63rd minute
With the Crew down 3-0 and the second half approaching its final stanza, the option of putting a defender into the game might have looked odd, but it definitely paid off as Crognale not only helped the Black & Gold to control the Canadian’s offense, but he also scored a goal that helped in the team’s impressive comeback to tie the match 3-3.
Honored to get my first MLS goal tonight. Great fight from the boys to claw back to get a point. Thank you COLUMBUS pic.twitter.com/loQA8NsSFX— Alex Crognale (@alexcrognale) June 3, 2018
The goal was meaningful to Crognale, a 23-year-old Gahanna-native with tight connections with the Crew who signed a Homegrown contract with the club ahead of the 2017 season.
“It means a ton,” the center back said after the match. “I’ve been coming to this stadium for years, and to come and play in front of these fans every weekend is a blessing. It’s a great honor to score, get on the field and help the team to get a point when for most of the match it looked like we were out of it.”
“A good night for me, an emotional night, scoring my first goal in front of these fans. All my family was here, so I’m just so proud to put on this jersey. That goal was for my family.”
A towering 6-foot-5 defender, Crognale is certainly a threat in air and many would expect him to score his first goal for Crew SC with his head. That was not the case, though, as the Homegrown player used his intelligence instead of his physical tools to take advantage of a mistake made by Toronto captain Michael Bradley inside the penalty box to put the ball in the back of the net with his left foot.
“You would think it would be with my head, but it wasn’t,” he laughed. “We put a few of the big guys on one side, and a few of the big guys on the other side, so whatever side Pipa served the ball to, they would head it back across the goal. Josh (Williams) put it in a great spot, and I just saw it, I took a chance that Bradley might take a touch. Surprisingly, he did, and I was there to pounce on it.”
The goal can be viewed as a reward for the defender’s dedication in 2018. After playing 17 matches (12 starts) in his rookie season in 2017, Crognale is facing a different scenario this year as he’s been going back and forth to California on short-term loans to USL side Orange County SC.
The defender acknowledges that spending part of his time outside Columbus, his hometown, has not been easy, but it has indeed helped in his development.
“Obviously, Gregg wanted me to go out to Orange County to get minutes and keep developing in my game, and I think it’s been a positive step for me to be out there and help Orange County, but also help myself develop mentally,” he remarked.
“Whenever I can, I’m coming back on the first flight to get back with these guys. This week, it came a little sooner than usual. I was there for four days, played a game, and was on the next flight in the morning. It’s been back and forth, so adapting is not the easiest, with a lot of travel and time change, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s been great so far.”