There was a lot of talk around the Columbus Crew community coming into the Eastern Conference Final against the New England Revolution. The Revolution made the MLS Cup playoffs through the play-in round where the team beat Montreal Impact. New England shocked those around Major League Soccer by beating the Supporters’ Shield-winning Philadelphia Union followed by a 3-1 victory against Orlando City SC. Head coach Bruce Arena had the team riding the strong momentum into this match.
Columbus came away with a 1-0 victory in a match that was equal parts exciting, nerve-racking and frustrating.
For the first time since Nov. 8 against Atlanta United, MAPFRE Stadium welcomed a small number of supporters back into the stadium.
Even though the Black & Gold couldn’t have a full stadium behind the team, there was plenty of support at home.
Also, a little further away from Central Ohio.
The Crew was also fortunate enough to have support from some that can’t be at home or the stadium.
Our sweet patient champion Decko has an important message for the @ColumbusCrewSC! Good luck in today's Conference Finals - you've got this! We can't wait to cheer you on and watch those butterflies fly! #Crew96 #ForColumbus #To96ther #MLSCupPlayoffs @Nationwide pic.twitter.com/YhxdqsVx7X— Nationwide Children's Hospital (@nationwidekids) December 6, 2020
Columbus started the match strong, similar to the team’s performance last week against Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Luis Diaz specifically was dangerous as head coach Caleb Porter exposed a weakness in the Revolution defense.
10 minutes in and #Crew96 is on the front foot here in the #MLSCupPlayoffs. Five corners, creating chances, this is the start Caleb Porter hoped for. Now the Black & Gold just need to put a chance away.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) December 6, 2020
The Revs are facing the version of Luis Diaz that eats left backs alive. DeJuan Jones is finding this out first hand. #Crew96— Patrick Guldan (@GuldanMR) December 6, 2020
The Haslam ownership group had a busy day with their sports teams and some supporters had to split time between the two. Both sides accomplished their goals of victory but the Cleveland Browns gave a preview of the close end of match nerves that Columbus supporters would soon feel.
Columbus defender Jonathan Mensah made a mistake in the first half that almost led to a New England goal by Adam Buksa.
Going into the halftime deadlocked at 0-0, one bright spot for the side was Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe knows what is needed to win an MLS Cup, as he’s won one with the Portland Timbers in 2015 and with Atlanta in 2018.
Nagbe masterclass. 19/19 passing, 100% so far.— Nick Hudak (@Nick__Hudak) December 6, 2020
Before halftime though, Pedro Santos provided a spark that was saved by New England goalkeeper Matt Turner.
#Crew96 Santos denied. Turner's been good so far.— Keith Collette ↙️↙️↙️ (@kcbus96) December 6, 2020
Got a good feeling about this second half. The #Crew96 have dominated the last 45 all season long— Brett Hiltbrand (@brett_hiltbrand) December 6, 2020
It didn’t start out as planned, with midfielder Artur sending an errant pass straight to New England in the Columbus defensive zone.
This heart attack was brought to you courtesy of Artur #Crew96— Andrew Atkins (@AndrewAtkinsSC) December 6, 2020
A small number of supporters weren’t the only people inside MAPFRE.
Some relief for the Crew came in the 59th minute with a game-winning Artur goal off an assist from Mensah and midfielder Lucas Zelarayan.
THERE IT IS!!!!!! Lucas >> Mensah >> Artur! What a beaut! Finally broke through, keep pressing, don't let up. #crew96— Toddrick33 (@Toddrick33) December 6, 2020
Also loved that celebration from Mensah and Afful.
Start watching for the goal, stay for the choreographed dance moves by Mensah and fullback Harrison Afful.
The cross— x - Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) December 6, 2020
THAT FINISH pic.twitter.com/n5yEXorZKN
Soon after the Black & Gold goal, Zelarayan had a shot of his own that struck the crossbar. It was as nice of a shot as you’ll see that doesn’t go into the net.
From there, the defense had to be careful to avoid any slip-ups. One standout performance of the night was center back Josh Williams. The Northeast Ohio native and veteran MLS defender shined for the backline. Even with his performance, anxiety started to build for Columbus supporters as they watched the Crew solidify the backline and absorb pressure.
Feels like this game has been in the 70-79th minute for about 30 minutes now. #Crew96— Eddyc85 (@Eddyc85) December 6, 2020
#Crew96 just about ten minutes to go and I start biting my nails half the World away....go Crew !!!— Thomas Lübke (@lubke_thomas) December 6, 2020
Some people watching took that anxiety while thinking about other, interesting, ideas.
If #Crew96 wins MLS Cup, do they get to set the MAPFRE scoreboard on fire again?— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) December 6, 2020
There were some close calls leading up to the final whistle, but before it made a sound, there was stoppage time.
It was then that goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, who started for Eloy Room, stepped up in a big way. His final save of the match was followed by that game-ending whistle and a ticket punched for the MLS Cup Final in Columbus.
EASTERN.— Dave Expects You To Stand At Least Six Feet Away (@SoDaveWasLike) December 6, 2020
Well wishes came from right here in Columbus.
“Nevermind Save The Crew. Now it’s time to Savor The Crew.”— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) December 6, 2020
Well-said. Any team in any sport this year that navigates all challenges and reaches a championship game is worthy of special recognition. #Crew96 will host MLS Cup. Wow.
We got a big fucking football game here in Columbus on Saturday. And Ohio State & Michigan might play, too.— Tom Reed (@treed1919) December 6, 2020
It should never be lost what this fanbase did to keep this team in Columbus….. https://t.co/w1cIQTenIM— Brian Dunseth (@BrianDunseth) December 6, 2020
The Crew is the Eastern Conference champions and now prepares for the MLS Cup Final next weekend, scheduled at 8 p.m. ET.