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Crew 2 advance after 4-1 MLS NEXT Pro playoff win vs. Rochester New York FC

The Black & Gold finally overcome RNYFC to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

Sam Famhi - Massive Report

The first-ever MLS NEXT Pro playoff game is in the books and Columbus Crew 2 claimed victory over Rochester New York FC by a 4-1 scoreline. A hat trick by forward and the league’s Golden Boot winner Jacen Russell-Rowe propelled the Black & Gold to victory. Russell-Rowe did not feature in the two regular season meetings between the sides this year, both of which were losses for Columbus where the team was unable to find the back of the net in either game.

The scoring did not start in this game until just before halftime. Both teams struggled to generate good chances early while picking up two yellow cards each in the first half. Rochester goalkeeper Caique confidently saved an outside-the-box shot by midfielder Isaiah Parente and a half volley from Russell-Rowe. RNYFC’s chances were squandered by shots not put on frame.

Finally, the deadlock broke in the 44th minute as Crew 2 settled into the game and began imposing the team’s play style on Rochester. Wing back Jake Morris hustled to retain possession in the attack, passing the ball back into an attacking position. After a couple of passes to evade pressure from RNYFC, midfielder Sean Zawadzki received the ball with no pressure and played a perfect ball into Russell-Rowe who managed to get slight separation from the defenders. A calm and skillful shot from the forward put the ball well outside Caique’s range and put the home team up 1-0.

Captain and attacker Marco Micaletto doubled Crew 2’s advantage in the 50th minute. Defender Abdi Mohamed lost possession of the ball in Rochester’s penalty area, only to be picked up by Russell-Rowe, who found an on-rushing Micaletto. The captain could do no wrong on the shot to put the Black & Gold up 2-0.

The home team thought they had a 3-0 lead after wing back Ryan Telfer was fouled in the 18-yard box and a penalty kick was awarded to Columbus in the 60th minute. Parente, who had been automatic from the spot all year, step up to take the shot, but Caique made an impressive save.

Crew 2 would not be denied a third goal, however, as Russell-Rowe continued to show his class. The Black & Gold striker did not let his pressure on the backline up all match and was rewarded when Caique took a bad touch and lost possession. Russell-Rowe latched on to the loose ball, took a turn to create space and blasted home a goal from over 35 yards into the open net in the 82nd minute.

The young Canadian finished the game with his third goal in the 85th minute. After gathering the ball from his own half, Russell-Rowe played a pass to Morris in a wide position. The wing back then played a beautiful pass over the top of the defense to Russell-Rowe who charged towards goal. Three defenders instantly swarmed MLS NEXT Pro’s top goal scorer this year, but he found a way to put a shot past them and the goalkeeper to net his second hat trick in as many games.

Rochester was able to get a single goal back in the second minute of second half stoppage time when forward Gabriel Costa managed a perfect cross in the face of pressure to fellow forward Dante Brigida. Brigida got on the wrong side of Telfer and put a routine header far outside of goalkeeper Patrick Schulte’s reach.

With the victory, Crew 2 advances in the MLS NEXT Pro playoff. The Black & Gold will face Toronto FC II on Sunday, Oct. 2 in the Eastern Conference Final at Historic Crew Stadium.