Following wins in the first round of group play of the MLS is Back Tournament, Columbus Crew SC and New York Red Bulls met with a spot in the knockout round up for grabs. It was the Crew that maintained momentum, as Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan were once against on the scoresheet to carry the Black & Gold to a 2-0 victory.
The 83rd meeting all-time between the two sides saw the Red Bulls dictate the pace through the opening 10 minutes of play. Columbus found its footing as the first half progressed as the trio of Lucas Zelarayan, Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes lead a Black & Gold offensive onslaught that saw Columbus claim a 9-3 advantage in shots at the end of the first half.
The trio received assistance from outside backs Hector Jimenez and Chris Cadden, who provided terrific service and helped switch the Crew point of attack throughout the match.
Columbus had a chance to claim an advantage in the 16th minute when Jimenez found Zardes with a floating cross that the forward put just over the bar. Three minutes later, winger Pedro Santos followed with an attempt of his own with a venomous shot from outside of the box. Unfortunately for the Crew, the shot was wide of the New York goal.
In the 22nd minute, Zardes collected his third goal of the tournament, finishing a chance off a throw in from Chris Cadden. The outside back found Santos in the middle of the park, who led Zardes behind the Red Bulls’ defense. The forward put his shot past goalkeeper David Jensen to claim a 1-0 lead.
The Crew could have made it a two-goal lead when Jonathan Mensah intercepted a pass at midfield and found Zardes lurking in line with the defense. The forward took the ball and, with New York closing down, laid the ball off to winger Derrick Etienne who took an off-balanced shot and missed the net entirely.
Etienne got a shot at redemption just two minutes out of the halftime break. The winger received the ball on a throw in and streaked down the far side of the pitch. At the same time as Zelarayan was running off the ball towards the top of the penalty box. Etienne’s cross found the Crew Designated Player and his shot beat the diving Jensen to his right, giving the Black & Gold a 2-0 lead.
Zardes was denied a chance for a brace in the 74th minute after a great defensive display from the Red Bulls. The Crew forward found his way behind the defense and into a threatening scoring position. Defender Amro Tarek managed to stay in stride with Zardes and dispossessed him with a precise slide tackle, thus ending the attacking threat.
Just two minutes later substitute winger Youness Mokhtar nearly tallied the goal of the year. Dancing through several defenders, Mokhtar attempted a lofted shot towards goal that rattled the crossbar and back into play.
Words just don’t do it justice.
desperately want this Mokhtar chip to go in every time I watch it pic.twitter.com/awlgUBW4eK— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) July 17, 2020
The Red Bulls mounted a heavy response towards the dying moments of the game but the Black & Gold held tough to claim a 2-0 victory over their Eastern Conference adversaries and a spot in the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament.
The Zardes and Zelarayan connection is undeniable. The duo provide an electric attack that hasn’t been seen in Central Ohio in some time. The pair have combined for seven of the Crew’s eight goals this season and they likely aren’t satisfied.
Two games and two appearances for Aidan Morris and Sebastian Berhalter. It’s easy to see why head coach Caleb Porter is excited about these two Black & Gold youngsters. Both have proven an ability to hang with older, more experienced players.
This tournament might be a blessing for the duo who otherwise may have been relegated to action in garbage time or during a midseason friendly. The fact that the Crew coaching staff feels confident enough to give the two meaningful minutes during a tournament like this speaks volumes to where they are as professional athletes.
Porter made five changes to his lineup on Thursday. It’s likely we will see another overhaul next week when the Black & Gold take on Atlanta United. Goalkeeper Eloy Room looked hampered by an apparent cramping issue late in Thursday’s victory and captain Jonathan Mensah looked battered after winning several aerial duels.
A little bit of rest for the core group of starters may go a long way.
Columbus faces Atlanta United on Thursday, July 21 at 8 p.m. on TUDN.