Somehow, someway, there was a 2020 Major League Soccer season. The longest season in MLS history ended on Dec. 12 when the Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup in a convincing 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders. The match was a coronation for the Black & Gold’s incredible 2020 season that featured stunning goals, breakout performances, united teamwork and iconic moments that will be remembered for generations.
Let’s take a look back at the best of those moments from this year:
No. 15 - Harrison Afful’s thunderbolt against Orlando City
The Crew made the team’s return to Florida to face Orlando City in what would be the final road game of the season. Down 1-0 and a minute after OCSC star Nani got a red card, right back Harrison Afful equalized with an incredible left-footed rocket that rose to the top of the net. Columbus lost the match 2-1 and concluded 2020 with zero true road wins.
No. 14 - The arrival of Aidan Morris
With the condensed schedule and positive COVID-19 tests, there was an excessive need for rotation in every MLS squad. Head coach Caleb Porter started over 20 players this season and had to give the Homegrown rookies some game time. Former Crew Academy member and Aidan Morris took his chance and capitalized on it.
The gritty midfielder was given an opportunity to start in early October after Darlington Nagbe got hurt. The 19 year old impressed with tenacious tackles and efficient passing. Morris earned another start against New York City FC on Oct. 18 and then became the youngest starter in MLS Cup Final history. No doubt he was the surprise breakout player for Columbus in 2020.
No. 13 - Decision Day victory against Atlanta United
Nov. 8, 2020, was Decision Day across MLS and the Crew hosted Atlanta United at MAPFRE Stadium. It was an unseasonably warm, 75-degree day sunshine beaming down on the field. The stakes were high as the Crew needed a victory to assure at least one home playoff game.
Columbus rose to the challenge against the 2018 MLS Cup winners with a 2-1 victory highlighted by Lucas Zelarayan’s delicate chip in the first half. The drama of Decision Day really struck when Atlanta defender Franco Escobar was sent off in a rage and after news that Nashville SC scored a late winner against Orlando moving the Crew up to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
No. 12 - Gyasi Zardes scores four in Hell is Real
The 2020 season was the year of the Hell is Real Derby. The Crew and FC Cincinnati played four times in three different venues over the course of three months. The result of the matches varied with Columbus winning twice, Cincinnati winning once and one game resulting in a 0-0 draw. The one constant was Gyasi Zardes scoring goals.
In the first meeting between the two at the MLS is Back Tournament, Zardes scored a brace to cement a 4-0 destruction of Jaap Stam’s Cincy side. The two teams reconvened in Columbus on Sept. 6 where Zardes scored two more goals. His sixth goal in the rivalry’s history was coupled with a memorable celebration just two days after his fourth child, Gyson, was born.
No. 11 - Krisztian Nemeth’s tap in to beat the Philadelphia Union
At the striker position, the Crew has got a clear No. 1 option in Zardes. Porter was in search of a backup striker for 2020 and the club quickly addressed that with the transfer deadline day signing of Hungarian forward Krisztian Nemeth.
Nemeth had to quickly step in after Zardes picked up an injury in late-October. The team was on poor form and had a big game to turn it around in Columbus against the first place Philadelphia Union. With the match tied at one, Porter brought in Nemeth for a potential late spark and 44 seconds later, he scored one of the most important goals for the Black & Gold in 2020 to defeat the Union.
No. 10 - The Crew wins all three MLS is Back group stage games
MLS finally returned to play in July with the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida at the ESPN Complex. The World Cup-style tournament’s group stage was ruled by the Crew, the only team to win all three matches and not concede a goal.
The Black & Gold started the tournament off with the 4-0 win against Cincinnati in the teams’ first match in four months. Then Columbus controlled in a 2-0 triumph against the New York Red Bulls and closed out the group stage with a 1-0 win against Atlanta United. Despite getting knocked out by Minnesota United on penalty kicks in the Round of 16, the tournament had many highlights including a 19-pass team goal finished by Youness Mokhtar.
No. 9 - Defense starts the season with eight clean sheets in first 10 games
For the first 10 games of the MLS regular season, the Crew was defined by its defensive performances. The Black & Gold started the season with a record-breaking run of eight clean sheets in its first 10 regular season games. Columbus only had one match where the team conceded three goals and finished 2020 with a league-leading 12 clean sheets.
The makeup of this high-performance backline consisted of multiple goalkeepers (Eloy Room and Andrew Tarbell), confident center backs (Josh Williams and Aboubacar Keita), and brave full backs (Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela). The leader of this strong unit was captain Jonathan Mensah who was impenetrable all year and earned him a spot on the MLS Best XI.
No. 8 - the playoff-clinching victory against NYCFC
One of the most important wins for the Black & Gold in 2020 came on Oct. 18 against New York City at MAPFRE Stadium. The Crew was on the team’s worst run of form with four straight winless matches that included a 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati.
Columbus returned home and got the job done against NYCFC with a 3-1 victory that shifted the momentum forward towards a playoff push. Two hours after the win, the club found out Toronto FC secured three points against Atlanta, putting Columbus back into the MLS Cup playoffs after missing out in 2019.
No. 7 - Lucas Zelarayan’s Opening-Day goal
March 1, 2020, was a day full of excitement around Columbus. The Crew began the 2020 MLS season at home against NYCFC in front of the only full crowd at MAPFRE Stadium all year. It was the start of a new season with a new Nationwide Children’s Hospital sponsored kit worn by new signings Darlington Nagbe, Vito Wormgoor and the hero of the afternoon Lucas Zelarayan.
The club-record signing capped off his Black & Gold debut with the winning goal against a 10-man NYCFC side. The turn, the touch, the finesse and the celebration that kickstarted a year where Columbus fell in love with El Mago.
No. 6 - Lucas Zelarayan’s free kick against FC Cincy in MLS is Back
Zelarayan continued his amazing first season in MLS when the Crew made its triumphant return in Orlando, Florida for MLS is Back. The eventual MLS Newcomer of the Year had a chance to show off his skills in dead ball situations to a national audience. Zelarayan took the opportunity with an exquisite curling free kick with his right foot. Little did we know this would not be the biggest goal he scored in 2020.
No. 5 - Eloy Room makes the Save of the Year
Zelarayan and Mensah were not the only Crew individuals to earn personal accolades in 2020. Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room made his mark on the season with an acrobatic double save against Orlando City in the eventual loss. The Curacao international’s highlight won the MLS Save of the Year and was the first time a Crew keeper claimed the award.
No. 4 - Darlington Nagbe scores the Goal of The Year
The Crew soccer made its return home after six long months on Aug. 20 when Columbus hosted the Chicago Fire. Even with no fans in attendance, the few reporters and guests of the team were left stunned late in the second-half with a thunderbolt strike from Nagbe to give the Crew a 2-0 lead. The effort won the MLS Goal of the Year, the second-time Nagbe has scored the award.
No. 3 - Pedro Santos ignites a playoff win against Nashville
After a successful regular season, the Crew was ready to make a push in the MLS Cup playoffs. The Black & Gold defeated the Red Bulls 3-2 in the first round and their next opponent was an upset-minded Nashville SC expansion team who had just knocked out Toronto FC 2-0 in extra time.
Things got complicated for Columbus when news struck that seven players received positive COVID-19 tests, putting the Black & Gold at a depth disadvantage coupled with two straight days without kicking a ball. A hard-fought first 90 minutes ended 0-0 between the two and extra time ensued. In minute 100, Pedro Santos scored his biggest goal of 2020 to give Columbus the lead and ignite a 2-0 victory to advance to the conference final.
No. 2 - Artur inch-perfect strike wins the Eastern Conference
More luck went Columbus’ way when the New England Revolution shocked Orlando City in the conference semifinal, giving the Crew the chance to host the Revs in the conference final. Despite most of the COVID positive players being out of quarantine, they were not fit enough to return to play, leaving the team once again with fewer players and training.
That didn’t matter as the Crew controlled New England all match and needed just one strike from Brazilian midfielder Artur in the 59th minute. The precise finish was enough for the Black & Gold to win the Eastern Conference for the third time in club history and secure the right to host the 2020 MLS Cup Final.
No. 1 - The Crew brings the MLS Cup to Columbus with a win against the Sounders
Obviously, this was the top moment of the 2020 season. The story is a ridiculous Hollywood script come to life. The Crew entered the MLS Cup Final down two key starters after Santos and Nagbe’s positive COVID-19 tests. The Black & Gold entered as the underdogs against the 2019 champion Sounders despite being at home.
Against the odds, the Crew smashed the Seattle 3-0 to win its second MLS Cup title with an MVP performance from Zelarayan in front of the Columbus fans. The city was on the verge of losing the Crew three years ago. The team was saved and is now champions of Major League Soccer.