Life and sports are about moments. Some players are able to seize on those when they come, while others are not. On Friday night against FC Cincinnati, Miguel Berry took his moment.
Lucas Zelarayan gave the Columbus Crew life after conceding two early goals and a first half red card to right back Harrison Afful. The Crew then searched for a way to turn a 2-0 deficit into a level score. Without many options on his bench, head coach Caleb Porter turned to Berry, a forward, in the 57th minute, hoping the second-year pro would bring some attacking life to the game. Twenty minutes later, the moment came.
“I remember my thought process the whole time,” Berry recounted the play. “When I started on the right it was, ‘Alright, Lucas is coming short. I’m going to get inside to play the striker because I know with Lucas up there, someone’s got to occupy the center backs to give him space.’ And I remember when he got it and Saad (Abdul-Salaam) pushed on higher up the right that he took the fullback. And I remember thinking, ‘I’m on here.’
“And I saw Darlington (Nagbe) in the pocket. And just as Lucas played me around the corner, I kind of took a peek and I saw the center back was a little bit out of position. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow. I don’t know why he’s doing that. Here’s my chance.’”
Sometimes those chances come and go, and no one would have blamed Berry, in his MLS debut, for missing an opportunity in a rivalry game. But the 23 year old showed calm composure, allowing the ball to run by him while turning into space. It was a one-touch chip over Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, and the ball was in the back of the net.
“I remember being one on one with Kenneth Vermeer, who I’ve watched play for the last 10 years of my life in Feynor and Ajax and things like that,” Berry continued. “It’s almost a surreal moment for a young player who’s really kind of stepping up to a bigger stage than I’ve ever played on. It was surreal and I just remember thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s a goal,’ before it even went in.”
Berry’s play looked like one of a veteran striker, not a player who featured two prior times for the Black & Gold, both in CONCACAF Champions League play earlier this year. The understanding of where to be on the field before the ball got to him and how to handle the situation — both the turn and the finish — to pull Columbus level was ahead of Berry’s years.
While the Barcelona-born, California-raised player hasn’t seen much time with the Crew, he has spent two stints on loan with the San Diego Loyal of the USL Championship, the league below MLS, over the last two seasons. While last year’s stint back out West got cut short due to the COVID pandemic, Berry played seven times for the Loyal while on loan over the last month-plus before being called back to Columbus. Berry found the back of the net three times for Landon Donovan’s team over that span.
This time in San Diego was crucial for Berry to be ready for Friday.
“For a young player, it’s always a matter of two things: are they good enough and if they are good enough, can they gain belief and confidence enough to actually do it in a real first-team game? And I think what we’re learning with Miguel is that he’s good enough and with his experience in the USL, which is why we loaned him out, getting some goals, getting some confidence, and then obviously this game coming in, that he can do it,” Porter said.
“I’ve seen guys go to USL and do well and come back and realize it’s not the same level and they don’t do well when they come back. Put it this way, if you go to the USL, you have to do well. If you don’t do well in the USL, you’re not going to do well here because it’s not the same level. In fact, it’s nowhere near it. And so he should have gone there and scored goals. We were glad that he did, it was great to see and that gave us a feeling that when he comes back that he can do it here.”
As important of a goal as that was, for both Berry and the Black & Gold, it was just one goal. Plenty of players have scored a goal in MLS and then gone on to do little else in their soccer careers.
Berry doesn’t want to be a one-hit-wonder.
“I don’t want to be the guy who scored that one goal in the Hell is Real Derby and you’re on one of those like, ‘Back in this day in 2021, Miguel scored this goal… Where is he now? He’s serving fries at McDonald’s.’ That’s not what I want to be doing,” he said.
Berry is working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. The young player realizes how important training is and is taking things day by day going forward despite his moment in the limelight.
With forwards Gyasi Zardes (international duty) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (recovering from an injury) still set to miss time for Columbus, there is a chance for more opportunities for Berry at the MLS level. After seizing the moment a week ago, it will be up to Berry to do it again and again going forward.
“It was a little bit of a confidence thing with him; it took some time but he’s just been with us a year and a half, people forget,” Porter said. “So, can we build on that? And can he build on that? That’s the key. You’ve got to take steps. And he took steps forward but he’s got to keep making progress forward and I think we are all optimistic that he can.”