It was not the most appealing game to the eye at times and it took 120 minutes plus some, but the Columbus Crew was able to get a result against Nashville SC which saw the team advance to the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference Final. Sunday’s 2-0 extra time MLS Cup playoffs victory at MAPFRE Stadium against MLS’s latest expansion side will see the Black & Gold play host to the New England Revolution on Dec. 6, another MLS original side.
Despite missing a whopping six players due to positive COVID-19 tests in the week leading up, the Crew got the job done at home and are two wins away from bringing home the team’s first major trophy since the 2009 Supporters’ Shield.
Here are Massive Report’s takeaways following the Crew’s latest playoff victory.
This Crew is built for the moment
It’s no doubt that not only was the Crew overshadowed by doubt surrounding the number of positive COVID-19 cases that circulated around the club last week but potentially the Eastern Conference semifinal game against Nashville as a whole. At least from the outside, there was an uncertainty that the game would even be able to be played, much less at its originally scheduled time, leading into the match.
Despite the odds, Columbus found a way to get the job done even without the team’s starting goalkeeper Eloy Room and not many options to pull from the bench. Andrew Tarbell, who has seen an up and down 2020 season (three wins, one draw and four losses pre-Nashville) when called upon, came up big for the Black & Gold on Sunday and provided a more-than-serviceable outing in place of the Crew’s usual No. 1 shot-stopper.
This game saw head coach Caleb Porter able to choose his preferred field player starters at the right time after stars Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan missed a handful of regular season games due to injury. Although taking 120 minutes to get the job done, the Crew showed its poise and perseverance throughout the entire match. So far in these playoffs, Columbus passed two vastly difficult tests in New York Red Bull and Nashville. The team is now halfway to its goal of winning a major trophy in 2020.
The road, on paper, could not be much easier
With this season’s installment of the MLS Cup playoffs already being altered compared to year’s past, the entertainment value has been second to none. Upsets have taken a turn in favor of the Black & Gold as they are the highest remaining seed in the Eastern Conference after two rounds of playoff games.
After a shock defeat at the hands of Nashville, No. 2 seeded Toronto FC, who played the role of kryptonite to the Black & Gold in years past, is out of the playoffs after making three of the last four MLS Cup Finals. The Revolution come into the Eastern Conference Final after taking down the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners in the Philadelphia Union and a dismantling of fourth-seeded Orlando City SC. The very few scenarios that would have seen the Black & Gold play host to each Eastern Conference playoff matchup has occurred.
And while the Revolution is the No. 8 seed, New England is no slouch, with one of the most decorated coaches in American soccer history in Bruce Arena at the helm. With star players in Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil, the Revolution will prove to be a tricky matchup for the Crew. However, if you were to tell Columbus at the start of the season that the team would play host to the Eastern Conference Final, it’s hard to imagine the Black & Gold wouldn’t love their odds to advance to MLS Cup.
Preparation is everything
Sunday was only the third time in the 2020 season where the Crew was able to notch consecutive post-MLS is Back Tournament victories. Fixture congestion was a big problem for many teams around the league and it’s hard to argue it wasn’t why injuries were so massive in such a tumultuous season. Things are a little bit different here in the MLS Cup playoffs.
The Black & Gold’s first-round victory against Red Bulls came at the back after two weeks to rest and prepare. There was another week between that game and the Crew’s meeting with Nashville. Even with the weird week where Porter acknowledged the fact the team didn’t kick a ball for two days at training because of the positive tests, it’s obvious what Columbus is capable of with allotted time and preparation.
With another week to go before the Crew takes the field once more, the Black & Gold hope to have a full collection of players to pick from. Porter is no stranger to adversity, nor is he to the latter stages of the postseason. But one thing is for sure, if you give Porter time, he’s as tough as anybody to outmatch.