Columbus Crew 2 came into Belson Stadium on Sunday, to take on New York City FC II, hoping to extend the team’s winning streak to six games. Somehow, despite going down to 10 men with 20 minutes left, the MLS NEXT Pro’s best defense proved valuable, shutting out the league’s best attack in NYCFC. Jacen Russell-Rowe’s second half goal was just enough for the Black & Gold to scrape by with a massive 1-0 win.
As Crew 2’s schedule was the same as the first team’s again this week, there was a chance to play some of the first-team members on Sunday. When the starting lineup revealed, Columbus took advantage of this to get midfielder Alexandru Matan, defender William Sands, and midfielder Aidan Morris some needed minutes. Columbus put out nearly the same lineup as the team did against Philadelphia Union II earlier this season, with only defender Jacob Erlandson starting this game over Josh Williams and goalkeeper Patrick Schulte starting over Brady Scott, a duo that has rotated games in goal this season.
This left some real quality on the bench, with names such as midfielder Issac Angking and forward Noah Fuson available for head coach Laurent Courtois. Angking has been great this season for Crew and Fuson is coming off of a brace against New England Revolution II himself.
The Black & Gold needed all the quality they possess, as NYCFC II came into this game with the best attack in MLS NEXT Pro. New York City had scored 20 goals in seven games prior to this contest, with a 7-0 win earlier this season, and coming off of a 4-1 victory against Toronto FC II.
NYCFC II came out in a 4-3-3, but forward Kevin O’Toole went down with an injury in the second minute. Midfielder Steveo Bednarsky replaced O’Toole as City forward Jonathan Jimenez moved closer inside as opposed to the wide position where he started.
The first shot of the game came in the 13th minute from a chance by Crew 2 captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto but the shot went well high, not giving NYCFC II too much of a scare.
Columbus controlled the first 20 minutes of the game, pressing and challenging the Pidgeon defenders, but that dangerous New York City attack started to find its form and began to control the game.
The 28th minute saw an incredible chance for NYCFC II with a one-on-one against Schulte, but the shot went off the post, saving Crew 2 from conceding only the team’s fourth goal of the season.
In the 34th minute, Columbus’ first card of the game was awarded to Matan. This may have been in retaliation for the physicality of New York City, as three of the home side’s four primary attacking players had already been shown yellows, with Jimenez the only attacker not in the books.
NYCFC II nearly found the net again in the 42nd minute from a beautiful cross into the penalty box. Forward El Mahdi Youssoufi headed the ball in the air, but the attempt fell just short left. A City set piece just before half almost went in from a leaping header and then found the foot of another New York City player in the 18-yard box that off the post. The half ended with the game still 0-0.
After a dominating performance at the beginning of the half, the Cityzens’ stellar passing, especially in attacking areas, began to show in bunches. Crew 2 walked away from the half breathing a heavy sigh of relief to still have a clean sheet.
The second half started with the Black & Gold subbing off Erlandson for defender Jake Morris. Columbus changed its physiology as well as the team began to press and looked much hungrier for a goal.
In the 54th minute, after taking the ball off an NYCFC II defender just outside of the penalty box, Matan delivered a perfect pass to Russell-Rowe, who finished cleanly to give the Crew 2 the 1-0 lead.
Russell-Rowe has been one of the best attackers in MLS NEXT Pro, scoring his fifth goal on the season, tied for second-highest in the league behind Tacoma Defiance forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (6).
The 66th minute was the perfect time for Courtois to bring on the quality players from the bench. The aforementioned Angking and Fuson came on for Matan and Morris.
These changes didn’t have much time to settle into the game, as Farsi saw a yellow card for time wasting in the 69th minute and defender Philip Quinton received a red card moments later for a foul as the last man, leaving Crew 2 playing a man down in the 71st minute.
The 10-men disadvantage became apparent in the 80th minute when NYCFC II had numbers in the penalty box. Luckily for Columbus, Schulte's saved a tying goal, something he had to do again just a minute later when City sent a ball to him from a header.
The referee announced six minutes of stoppage time, as the Crew 2 defense was not leaving Queens without a final tough test. After a last-second chance by City that saw the team have two opportunities in the 18-yard box, Schulte scoop the ball and the whistle allowed the Black & Gold to let out another sigh of relief with victory.
With the win, Crew 2 extended the team winning streak to six games and will come home riding high. It is fitting that the Black & Gold will be rewarded for their fine efforts, as the team will play its first game at Lower.com Field on Saturday against TFC II at 7 p.m. ET, following the first team’s game against LAFC.