The Columbus Crew will return to the MLS Cup Final for the first time in five years after the Black & Gold won the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference championship following a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday.
Despite the score, it was arguably one of the Crew’s best performances of the entire season as the team kept a strong Revolution team under control for the duration of the match and created several goal-scoring opportunities on the other side of the field.
Here’s how each player performed in the Eastern Conference Final:
Andrew Tarbell (7.5) – The backup goalkeeper was unbothered for most of the match, but was solid when the Crew needed him to be. His most notable saves came on an attempt from Adam Buksa in the second half and the final play of the match when he had to leave the area between the posts to punch the ball and stopped a shot from Matt Polster right after it.
Harrison Afful (7) – The right back took advantage of the space ahead of him and created some good opportunities with his runs during the first half. Afful was also more steady than normal on defense too, doing a great job in protecting his side of the field and ending the match with three interceptions.
Jonathan Mensah © (7) – The captain looked unusually shaky at moments in the first half and one of his flaws, a failed attempt to intercept a long pass, ended with Buksa hitting the Crew’s post. His performance was significantly better in the second portion of the match and he completed his recovery from the bad start with a match-high nine clearances and an offensive player-caliber assist to Artur.
Josh Williams (8) – The veteran center back was the Crew’s best player in the first half, not only consistently winning balls back but also finding teammates in good spots in the final third with his long passes. His defensive performance didn’t drop a single notch in the second half as he was instrumental in stopping several of New England’s attempts, most notably what could have been a dangerous cross from Gustavo Bou inside the penalty box.
Milton Valenzuela (7) – The Argentinean was tasked with defending New England’s strong right side of Carles Gil and Tajon Buchanan and did a good job in keeping them under control with his four tackles and three clearances. That took much of his offensive power. Although Valenzuela didn’t push forward as frequently as usual, he did find some passes deeper on the field.
Artur (8.5) – The Brazilian covered a lot of ground and won balls for Columbus in consistent fashion, ending the match with three tackles and two interceptions. He also did well when sliding between the center backs and helping the team building out of the back. He showed great movement and composure in front of goal to score the game-winning goal with his a one-touch, left-footed finish.
Darlington Nagbe (8) – The star midfielder played a fantastic match for the Crew. Nagbe was as clean as usual when on the ball, connecting 95 percent of his passes and initiating some good offensive plays for the Black & Gold, but also had a major contribution on the defensive end of the game, registering two tackles, four interceptions and three clearances.
Luis Diaz (7.5) – The Costa Rican was electric at the start of the match, creating chances and generating corner kicks with his runs down the right side. His participation level oscillated during the match, but more often than not he managed to be dangerous when he got on the ball. His good run on form during the MLS Cup playoffs is great news for the Black & Gold going forward.
Lucas Zelarayan (8) – The Argentinean did a good job in distributing the ball up front. Zelarayan wasn’t as flashy as in previous matches, but he consistently found the right passes and kept the team going offensively. In the second half, he was even better, hitting the crossbar with a long-range shot, crossing the ball on Artur’s goal and feeding Zardes with a fantastic pass in the penalty box. He finished the match with four key passes.
Pedro Santos (6.5) – The Portuguese didn’t have his best day from a technical standpoint, but remained as aggressive as ever, firing long-distance shots whenever he had a chance, with mixed results. He also worked hard on the defensive side of the ball, having a team-high four tackles.
Gyasi Zardes (6.5) – The striker had a difficult first half when he wasn’t fed the ball in good spots and struggled to control some of the long passes sent his way up top. He had a good chance in the second half, but Matt Turner did a good job in denying the shot. Zardes still ended the match with five shots and was important on defense as usual.
Emmanuel Boateng (N/A) – The Ghanaian came off the bench with 10 minutes to go but only touched the ball once as New England controlled the actions in the team’s attempt to tie the match.
Caleb Porter (7.5) – His strategy worked once again as the Crew was an efficient team on both sides of the ball. Columbus did a great job in keeping New England’s most dangerous offensive pieces under control for the entire match and, as was also the case against Nashville SC in the last round, remained patient and organized as it chased the game-winning goal, which came from an unexpected source.
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