After clinching the MLS NEXT Pro Central Division last week with a 2-0 win against Philadelphia Union II, Columbus Crew 2 was back in action against Chicago Fire II on Saturday night at Lower.com Field. The Black & Gold entered the game knowing a win would clinch the Eastern Conference title.
That’s exactly what happened in a 3-1 win for Columbus. Crew 2 got contributions all over the field in the team’s 15th victory of the year, including goals from midfielder Isaiah Parente, forward Jacen Russell-Rowe and winger Ryan Telfer.
The Black & Gold managed another quick start, as their one-touch passing from the kickoff found defender Jake Morris running down the left wing side. His ensuing cross, however, went just over the goal line.
Columbus had another good look to potentially get on the board early when defender Tristan Weber slotted a cross through the six-yard box. Unfortunately for Crew 2, there was no attacker who could get on the end of the attempt to open the scoring.
The Black & Gold were able to find the back of the net through a solo effort from Isaiah Parente after just 26 minutes The midfielder saw an opening into the 18-yard box, dribbling around three Chicago defenders and slotted the ball past the Fire II goalkeeper to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.
Another opportunity came when a free kick for Columbus on a set piece found Weber all alone in the box. The defender had a shot on goal but was an easy cleanup for the goalkeeper.
Crew 2 doubled the team’s lead in the 37th minute when forward Noah Fuson was fouled on an attack. The referee played advantage with Russell-Rowe in on goal and he was able to round the goalkeeper, who came off his line to make a save, but took down the attacker, giving the Black & Gold a penalty kick. Russell-Rowe converted the spot kick, doubling the Columbus lead.
This lead would stay the same going into halftime, with Crew 2 only 45 minutes away from locking up the No. 1 spot in the East.
With the Black & Gole holding to a 2-0 advantage, there wasn’t any need to attempt to pour on more goals. However, Columbus came close multiple times with the best chance coming in the 70th minute when captain Marco Micaletto sent a cross into the penalty box. The ball was dummied by Russell-Rowe and fell to Telfer, who sent his attempt way high.
Fuson could have made the score 3-0 in the 75th minute. Unfortunately, his give-and-go with Micaletto led to a shot that rang off the post.
Fire II had an opportunity to counter but nothing came from the chance.
Telfer made up for his missed goal just a minute later. His shot on goal found the back of the net after a dangerous run down the right wing side.
Chicago was able to find the back of the net after a mistake in the midfield led to an attack and a subsequent goal for the visitors.
A flurry of attacks by both teams in the waning minutes of the match saw nothing come to light, with Crew 2 grabbing a 3-1 win and clinching the Eastern Conference title.
With his goal in this game, Russell-Rowe now ups his tally to 17 on the season. The forward, who spends time with both Crew 2 and the senior team, leads MLS NEXT Pro in the Golden Boot race.
Defense wins games
Coming into the match, the Black & Gold had only allowed 20 goals, making them the best defensive team in MLS NEXT Pro. Although Fire II was able to score a consolation goal, late the defense prevailed after keeping Chicago off of the board for much of the match.
Columbus is back in action Sunday, Sept. 11 against Inter Miami CF 2. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET.