It was a weekend Columbus Crew supporters will not soon forget. Not only did the Crew first team win late in stoppage time on Saturday night to keep the team’s MLS Cup playoff hopes alive, but Columbus Crew 2 moved on to the MLS NEXT Pro Final with even more drama. After finishing 2-2 in regulation in the Eastern Conference Final against Toronto FC II, the Black & Gold trailed 3-2 in the second half of extra time. Columbus not only equalized but scored a game winner in the 119th minute, courtesy of substitute Coleman Gannon.
The game opened with Crew 2 showing more nerves than normal. A few chippy tackles, mistimed passes, and giveaways characterized the opening minutes alongside an aggressive full press to get an early goal. Once the players settled into the game, possession and attacking pressure favored the Black & Gold. Forward Noah Fuson had the first real chance of the game off a pass from defender Abdi Mohamed but could not convert.
Fuson kept pressuring the Toronto defense, ultimately getting his reward with the first goal of the match in the 32nd minute. Fuson’s goal was a beautiful team goal that saw Columbus work from the right side of the pitch all the way to the left with combination play between wing back Mohamed Farsi, forward Jacen Russell-Rowe and midfielder Isaiah Parente, ultimately working toward wing back Ryan Telfer. Telfer saw the run of Fuson and put a cross in from his first touch that found the forward slicing in front of his defender for the finish.
Moments after Fuson’s goal, Russell-Rowe struck a thundering shot from distance but was denied by the crossbar. Captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto also had a few chances before the half was up, but Crew 2 could not build on the team’s one-goal advantage before the break.
The Black & Gold were in fully in control of the match and appeared destined for a trip to the MLS NEXT Pro Final before halftime. After the break, chaos erupted, the wheels fell off the cart and the Reds made their presence felt.
In the 47th minute forward Paul Rothrock opened the scoring for TFC II. Columbus defender Phillip Quinton had an uncharacteristic lapse and gave away possession to Rothrock after receiving a pass from goalkeeper Patrick Schulte. Once Rothrock took possession away from Quinton, he went one on one with Schulte, curling his shot beyond the goalkeeper’s reach to equalize for Toronto. The consistent pressure from the visitors forced the pass back to Schulte and then from the goalkeeper to Quinton.
Crew 2 won a penalty kick when Telfer attempted to play across into the penalty box and defender Antony Curic blocked it with his arm as he dove to stop the cross. Parente stepped up to take the penalty and buried it.
Up 2-1 in the 60th minute, Black & Gold head coach Laurent Courtois made his first substitution, bringing on Gannon for the prolific Russell-Rowe.
The second half waned on as Columbus continued to create chances but failed to gain an additional advantage, opting instead to try and control the ball near the corner flags to waste time. The failure to add to the score came back to haunt the home team, as Toronto equalized in the third minute of second half stoppage time.
TFC II midfielder Themi Antonoglou took a free kick from outside the 18-yard box and blasted it past the Crew 2 wall and into the back of the net. Antonoglou found space between Fuson and Quiton in the wall and Schulte never saw the ball until it was too late, forcing the game into extra time.
Antonoglou punished the Black & Gold on a second mistake in the 94th minute. A poorly worked corner kick routine from Columbus turned the ball over to the TFC II midfielder, who carried the ball to the midfield line. With no defender back for Crew 2, Antonoglou saw Schulte far outside his penalty area and took an ambitious shot from the center circle that put Toronto up 3-2 in extra time.
Trailing going into the second half of extra time, the Black & Gold knew they had to score to keep their dreams of raising the first MLS NEXT Pro Cup alive. Without the team’s lead scorer in Russell-Rowe on the field, Columbus struggled to create dangerous chances.
A free kick just outside the penalty area was awarded to Crew 2 and instead of opting for a cross, Parente played a short pass in to substitute wing back Jordan Knight. Knight carried the ball near the end line and put in a tough angle, low probability shot that Toronto goalkeeper Luka Gavran let slide underneath him for a surprising equalizer in the 109th minute.
Both teams had chances saved as extra time dwindled down and a penalty kick shootout seemed likely. In the dying moments, Fuson was able to latch on to a ball just outside the penalty area dribbled the ball through three defenders and was through on goal. Gavran made the stop on Fuson, but Gannon charged down the rebound and slammed the ball into the goal for the winner in the 119th minute.
There was no significant action between Gannon’s late goal and the final whistle, sending the Black & Gold to the Final. Following the final whistle, Columbus celebrated by raising the Eastern Conference trophy at midfield before bringing it over to the Nordecke and enjoying several moments with the fans at Historic Crew Stadium.
Crew 2 will host the MLS NEXT Pro Final against St. Louis CITY2 on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET at Lower.com Field.