The Columbus Crew took home the MLS Cup title in 2020 largely thanks to a defense that allowed just 21 goals in 23 games played, second-best in Major League Soccer. But the Crew’s offense was nothing to sleep on either, scoring 36 times, tied for eighth-best in MLS. Come the MLS Cup playoffs, the offense really shined, scoring nine times in four postseason contests.
The attackers were on form throughout the year, scoring 25 of the team’s goals in the regular season and six of the postseason finishes. As we wrap up our look back at 2020 through our positional review, Massive Report takes a look at the front men for the Black & Gold and how these attackers performed.
For the third consecutive season, Zardes led the line for the Crew in 2020. The striker played in 21 of the team’s regular season games, starting 20 and scoring 12 times — the most on the team — while registering four assists, his most since coming to Columbus.
Zardes got off to a good start to the year, scoring in just the second match in a 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders. While it took a while on the calendar, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for Zardes to score again, it was in just the third game of the season for him to find the back of the net twice more against FC Cincinnati.
The striker had four goals in five games by the time the Black & Gold began regular season play again following the MLS is Back Tournament. In that return game against the Chicago Fire, Zardes found the back of the net once more in a 3-0 win. Throughout the rest of the regular season, Zardes didn’t go more than three games played without scoring a goal.
In the postseason, Zardes scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the first round against the New York Red Bulls with a well-placed header to the back post. The American again delivered in the next round, setting up Pedro Santos’ extra time winner before scoring himself to seal passage to the Eastern Conference Final on Columbus’ way to winning the MLS Cup.
For the third time in as many years, Zardes led the Crew in scoring with his 12 regular season finishes. The forward finish tied with Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz and the Fire’s Robert Beric for second in the MLS Golden Boot race behind on LAFC’s Diego Rossi.
In his first season in MLS, after coming from Mexico for a record fee, Zelarayan quickly demonstrated his ability with the Black & Gold, taking home the team’s Most Valuable Player award by the year’s end. While he only played in 16 games while battling injuries, the Argentine scored six goals and added four assists in the regular season and was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
Through his first three games in black and gold, Zelarayan scored three goals and managed two assists. Against Cincinnati at the MLS is Back Tournament, Zelarayan scored a fantastic free kick and registered two helpers in a 4-0 win against Columbus’ rivals.
While Zelarayan struggled to remain on the field through a strange season while battling injury issues, the playmaker made it clear that the Crew was better when he was available. His activity alone was enough to force opposing defenses to be aware of him, which at the very least opened up space for his teammates.
Zelarayan will forever be remembered for his MVP performance in the MLS Cup Final when he scored two goals against the Sounders, but the Argentine was electric throughout the postseason, registering five assists, including at least one in each playoff game on the way to a championship first season in Columbus.
While he spent much of the season on the wing — and you can read about his performance as a winger here — Santos once again showed his versatility, often stepping into the No. 10 role when Zelarayan missed games.
In those contests that Zelarayan did not play, the vast majority of which Santos filled his role, the Portuguese managed four of his six goals and three of his eight assists registered in 2020. While the Crew certainly wanted to see Zelarayan on the field and working with Santos as a winger, the Black & Gold showed comfort with Santos playing in the middle and creating chances for his team when the top playmaker was out of the game.
After his signing in early October, Nemeth found a way to contribute for Columbus. While he only played in four games and registered 186 minutes, Nemeth managed one goal, a game-winning finish in an important game when coming off the bench against the Philadelphia Union late in the season.
Less than a month after joining the Crew, Nemeth was forced into the starting lineup after Zardes picked up an injury. He played from the start against the Houston Dynamo and D.C. United and did as well as to be expected for a player still learning how to play with his new teammates.
Adi was signed prior to the season after a disappointing year with FC Cincinnati. The forward, who played for head coach Caleb Porter previously in a successful run with the Portland Timbers, came on a team-friendly deal and was expected to serve as a quality backup to Zardes.
Prior to the arrival of Nemeth, Adi played in 11 games, starting one, and failed to register a goal on five shots or an assist. Once Nemeth was on the team, Adi did not see the field for the remainder of the season.
In his first full season with the Crew after coming over from Toronto FC in July of 2019, Hamilton struggled to see the field. The forward saw just 13 minutes in two appearances with both of those coming in late October when Zardes was out injured and Nemeth started.
Hamilton failed to score on zero shots in 2020.
Berry was the Black & Gold’s first-round pick, seventh overall, in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. While he did not feature for Columbus in his rookie year, Berry did make seven appearances and scored three goals while on loan to USL Championship side San Diego Loyal.