The Columbus Crew is MLS Cup Final bound as the Black & Gold edged the New England Revolution 1-0 behind an Artur goal and stout defensive. It was Artur’s second goal of the playoffs and pushes the Crew into the team’s third appearance in the final.
Columbus had an excellent chance early. Lucas Zelarayan sent in a pass from midfield that Luis Diaz ran on to. The speedy winger cut back to his left foot and let fly with a powerful blast. Revs goalkeeper Matt Turner could only parry the shot past the post.
The Crew targeted the right side several more times early in the game, but only got a Gyasi Zardes blocked shot out of the effort.
Early excitement died down as the teams settled into a more modest pace. The volume of chances thinned as well too. The Revolution’s best effort came on a Carles Gil long ball into the Crew final third. Jonathan Mensah struggled with the danger as he backpedaled and missed the clearance. Adam Buksa picked up the pass and bore down on goal, but his shot rang the upright to keep the score level in the 28th minute.
The direct play was a reoccurring theme throughout the match. This time the Crew created a couple of chances as the home side played direct to unlock the Revolution backline. Josh Williams pushed a ball forward that Harrison Afful corralled the pass and found Zelarayan inside the penalty box. The Argentine playmaker took a right-footed shot that forced Turner to punch the ball wide in the 36th minute.
Pedro Santos took the missed clearance and put the ball on his favored left foot. He dribbled into the penalty area and drilled a shot that forced another Turner save in the 38th minute.
The Crew pushed to the Revs doorstep off a turnover and Darlington Nagbe drove into the final third before playing a ball right to Diaz. His driven cross forced a clearance with Zardes pushing into the six-yard box.
Again Columbus nearly broke through off a quick attack with Zelarayan free down the left side. He bent in a cross to Zardes, who slipped his marker. The stabbing attempt forced another acrobatic Turner save.
The Black & Gold finally broke through in the 59th minute. Again it came from a quick attack. Zelarayan drove in a left-footed cross through the 18-yard box. Jonathan pushed the ball centrally and Artur redirected from 15 yards into the lower corner past the outstretched hand of Turner.
Zelarayan nearly doubled the lead moments later through a moment of individual brilliance. The multi-million dollar man received the ball and took a half turn to give him a half-space. He then bent a right-footed shot off the post.
With the lead, the Crew weathered significant pressure from the visitors. The Revolution had the possession edge post-goal, but could only create six shots and only put them on target as the game headed into stoppage time. Andrew Tarbell was up to the task as Columbus held onto the slim advantage until the final whistle.
The Crew rode an outstanding defense to the top of the table early in the MLS season. The team finished with the second-best defensive record in the league over the full season. However, the last time the Black & Gold had back to back shutouts was at the beginning of September against the Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati. Until tonight.
The Crew limited the high-flying Revolution to nine shots and only three on target. The dynamic Gustavo Bou was held to two shots, neither on target, and he failed to connect on a pass in the final third.
The Crew needed plays out of its big players to turn the game. Zelarayan stepped up. He was there went the Black & Gold needed to play out of trouble. He consistently provided the first line of defense. His biggest contribution was doing the things the Crew paid a multi-million dollar fee for. He created three big chances on the night, one that was finished. He also nearly conjured a goal of his own, a brilliant turn and shot that hit the post.
MLS Cup. Next Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium. The Crew will find out who the team plays on Monday night.