Caleb Porter: Columbus Crew SC were dominant against New York Red Bulls, have championship look in their eyes

Columbus Crew SC - team celebration - MLS Cup Playoffs

Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter feels the scoreboard from Saturday’s game against the New York Red Bulls can be a bit deceiving.

Columbus earned a 3-2 win over RBNY, a scoreline that sent the hosts into the Eastern Conference Semifinals as part of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. It denied Gerhard Struber a win in his MLS coaching debut, too, but Porter feels the Crew's play deserved even greater reward.

“I actually think people are going to see the scoreline and think it was close at 3-2,” Porter said in his postgame interview. “Obviously it was [close] at the end, but that's one of the most dominant 3-2 results I've ever been a part of. I thought it was very comprehensive on our part, both sides of the ball. 

“With the way New York plays, they're always one ball launched in the box or crossed in the box or set piece away from scoring and I thought they were opportunistic. They scored a couple goals against the run of play, but I thought our guys were extremely professional the entire match.”

That aura of confidence trickles down to Porter’s players, too, with forward Gyasi Zardes describing the mentality of their group. He scored a looping header in the 68th minute that stood as the game-winner, giving Columbus a cushion after Brian White grabbed a 90th-minute goal that drew the Red Bulls within one.

Highlights: Columbus Crew SC 3, New York Red Bulls 2

“In this locker room, we just beat a tough opponent and yet guys are not jumping around celebrating,” Zardes said. “Like you said, it's all business-like and we're focusing on our next opponent already. We're making sure we get everybody healthy and get ready and just start dialing in on the next opponent because we know playoff soccer, what is it, three more games and you can be a champion. There's no time to celebrate, there's no time to take your foot off the pedal. We have to keep going.”

It was a similar message from Darlington Nagbe, who scored in the 46th minute after Columbus blitzed RBNY when the second half kicked off. He beat Ryan Meara 23 seconds after play resumed, showing that they meant business.

“The locker room, we're happy with the win but not over the top,” Nagbe said. “I think it's just the first step in the direction that we want to go, what we want to achieve. I thought we went out there and just executed. Like those two guys said, business-like, coming out taking care of what we have to do, focusing on ourselves, creating chances, defending well. The two goals we gave up we could've done better on those, but I thought we created a lot of chances and played their game a little bit and played well.”

Looking ahead, Columbus will face either Nashville SC or Toronto FC on Nov. 29 in the next round. A club that missed the playoffs entirely in 2019, they’re two wins away from advancing to MLS Cup and have all of their key players back healthy, ranging from Nagbe and Zardes to 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year Lucas Zelarayan and goalkeeper Eloy Room.

They’ll have eight days to rest, and Porter said that he’s supremely confident in his team’s ability when they can train and game plan. The fast-and-heavy nature of the 2020 regular season seldom allowed for that, so he welcomes this challenge with open arms.

“I really like when I walked in the locker room, just seeing the look in the guys' eyes,” Porter said. “I've been in locker rooms a lot of years and the teams that win championships, they're very business-like and that's what they looked like after the game. It was almost like they were onto the next immediately. So that's what you want to see out of your group and I thought the guys were extremely hungry."