When the Columbus Crew went down a man midway through the first half in their US Open Cup match against Indy Eleven Tuesday, the challenge in front of them was clear. And when they lost another man to a red card later in the match, things looked even more grim.
But after 120 minutes of exhausting play, the Crew snagged a 2-1 win in extra time, and head coach Gregg Berhalter said the match was an excellent test for his team.
"It was a good opportunity for guys to dig and be challenged," Berhalter said after the match. "The exercise of playing with ten men and then nine men is going to be helpful to this group. We proved we could do it, and they felt comfortable doing it. For a large part of the game we were down a man and still in control, for the most part."
Midfielder Ben Speas said he hadn't been involved with such a long match since college.
"It feels great," he said. "Crazy game, no one could write that. It's crazy. But to come out with three points is the most important thing, and now we get to look forward to the next game."
Defender Chad Barson, who came in as a substitute in the second half, gave credit to his teammates who played the entire 120 minutes in the heat and humidity.
"They're tired, they're fatigued, but they're battling, and sometimes the game comes down to that," he said. "We've seen that in some of our league games, it's not always going to be pretty, but you just need to battle and grit it out and find a way to win, and that's what we did tonight."
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While Berhalter admitted that he was glad the game didn't need to go into penalty kicks, he said it would have been an interesting test for the team.
"If you could tell me we could go into penalties and win, maybe I'd say I want to do it," he said with a laugh. "Because you want to see who has the focus to take a penalty kick after being on the field after a long time, but obviously to avoid it was good."
Rather than focusing on the fact that the team narrowly beat an NASL side, Barson said the gritty win says a lot about the team's character.
"We're resilient, we're a team that's going to fight and battle, even when the conditions aren't ideal for us," he said. "I think we showed that tonight... it was a total team effort, and I'm just proud that we were able to come out on top and find a way to win."