The Crew didn’t need much out of the second leg and it was apparent. The Black & Gold carried a 4-0 aggregate lead from the first let into the home game and put out a lineup of mostly reserves. Only Eloy Room, Artur and Harrison Afful — maybe Luis Diaz — could be considered first-teamers in the lineup head coach Caleb Porter rolled out. Rookie Isaiah Parente made his first career start, as did second year attacker Miguel Berry.
The Crew was forced into an early and unplanned substitution as Aidan Morris came up injured as he attempted a tackle in the fourth minute. Morris didn’t make contact in the attempt, but appeared to catch on the grass and immediately grabbed his knee. Defender Grant Lillard came in to replace him in the ninth minute as Perry Kitchen moved up to the midfield.
This was a game with little fluency throughout the first half. The reserve-heavy Crew lineup struggled on the ball and didn’t threaten the Esteli goal. The first Black & Gold shot came in the 32nd minute when defender Aboubacar Keita popped a header over the goal from a Parente corner kick.
The better example of a Crew attack came moments later. Columbus attacked down the right side in the 35th minute. A Luis Diaz cross was cut out and popped to forward Bradley Wright-Phillips. He tried to find Parente, but the homegrown rookie was offside, ending the chance despite a shot on target.
Columbus brought on a couple of subs at halftime as Lucas Zelarayan and Milton Valenzuela replaced Artur and Afful as Porter attempted to manage minutes and inject life into the game.
Zelarayan picked up a yellow card for a hard tackle in the 48th minute and took over set piece duties from Parente, including a flurry of corners early in the second half. Only one, a 53rd minute attempt by Lillard, resulted in a shot that Real Esteli keeper Denvern Fox eventually covered.
The injection of energy didn't last as the Crew stayed on the front foot but struggled to test the Real goal for long stretches of the half.
Columbus’ quality eventually broke through as Zelarayan had a brief opening on the ball and sent a through ball to Wright-Phillips. The veteran didn't miss from inside the penalty area and put the Black & Gold up 1-0 in the 86th minute, his first goal in a Crew uniform.
A loss on a winning night
The extent of the injury Morris suffered in the first half is unknown, but it was serious enough that the young midfielder was stretchered to the locker room midway through the first half. After being substituted, Morris headed to the bench to sit down for further treatment. In obvious pain, he was unable to make his way to the locker room.
No injury status is available this early, but it's clear that Morris suffered a significant and painful injury. Currently, the Crew has Kevin Molino on the long-term injury list, but Morris may be joining him if the injury is as bad as appeared.
Yes, the Crew moved on, but Porter was able to accomplish a couple of other objectives during the match. He was able to rest some of his key players as Zelarayan, Valenzuela, Pedro Santos, Artur, Afful and Williams were able to get game time to stay sharp, but didn’t have to go the full 90 minutes.
Parente played full 90 minutes as the team’s playmaker then as the “number 8” midfielder. The rookie showed a deft touch as the team’s set piece taker in the first half. Miguel Berry also got in 90 minutes playing on both the left and right wings for Columbus. He played with a lot of energy, but was unable to create chances or get into dangerous positions and had a quiet game.
The Crew move on to the quarterfinal where the Black & Gold will likely play Mexican team C.F. Monterrey who has a 3-0 lead over Panamanian side Atlético Pantoja after the first leg. The first leg of the series will be played in Columbus on April 27, 28 or 29. The second leg will be played in Monterrey between May 4 and May 6t The opening match in MLS play is on Sunday with the Philadelphia Union coming to historic Crew Stadium on with kick off is listed as 5:55 p.m. ET.