Columbus Crew live their MLS Cup dream: "Impossible is an opinion"


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Finals are often tense, and MLS Cup, the biggest league trophy on offer, is no different.

That’s why Columbus Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy made sure to lighten the mood in the locker room pre-match by showing his team photos of each player as a kid, with an added reminder of why they all play the game.

“You know, it's funny because before the game we laugh a lot during my big pregame speech, because I wanted to tell them that I don't have to talk with them regarding the winning part, because as a kid we want to win already,” said Nancy in the post-match press conference.

“Because if we lose, we cry. So we showed them pictures of them when they were young. And we had a good laugh because that was the purpose.”

The strategy worked.

Columbus, in just their first year under Nancy, lifted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy with a comprehensive 2-1 win Saturday over defending champions LAFC at Field. It was the Crew's third-ever MLS Cup triumph, building off 2008 and 2020 trophies, plus denying the Black & Gold's repeat dream.

NancyBall wins the day

With the stadium’s Nordecke supporters’ group section delivering raucous noise from first kick to final whistle, Nancy’s side put on a show. In typical Crew fashion, they tallied goal contributions not only from their star striker, Cucho Hernández (33rd-minute penalty kick), but from less-heralded talents as center back Malte Amundsen, who delivered an unworldly pass to wingback Yaw Yeboah to double the lead just four minutes later.

In any other system, the second goal’s 11-pass sequence that was finished off by two defenders would be a collector’s item. Under Nancy, it was routine.

“I think we’ve seen that a couple of times this year, Malte playing that pass,” homegrown and MLS All-Star midfielder Aidan Morris said after the match. “I've been out there a few times after training doing a drill and seeing him work on it with Yaw, just the two of them out there. Their relationship is amazing, so it came as no surprise to me when I saw him look up for that pass.”

In lockstep with Nancy’s pregame speech reminding his team to play loose, one of the Crew’s key missions for the match was to play boldly on the front foot. Perhaps ironically, that approach crystalized for Nancy with the team’s lone loss in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, a 4-2 decision in their Round One Best-of-3 series against Atlanta United.

“The second game against Atlanta, we lost the game not because of the quality of Atlanta but because we were not brave and courageous,” said Nancy after the match. “So the way we play, I want them to attack. To be smart, but to attack.”

Asked if any other coach in his six-club career would have a similar reaction to a 4-2 loss, Amundsen was emphatic: “No. This coach is incredible. We owe him everything for this MLS Cup.”

Winger Alexandru Matan, one of many Crew players to see an uptick in playing time and career trajectory under Nancy, described the attack-minded philosophy a little more colorfully.

“The coach, he deserves all the credit,” said Matan amid locker room celebrations. “You need to have balls, sorry for my language, to play this type of football.”

“Impossible is an opinion”

As much as the Crew’s bold attacking style stole the show, the team’s self-belief and comradery may have fueled them most of all. That, too, starts with Nancy.

“I told them, ‘Guys, impossible is an opinion,’” relayed Nancy to MLS Season Pass of his pre-game message. “‘Just enjoy it and we’re going to grow.’ And this is what happened. This is unbelievable.”

Mo Farsi, who spent much of the night containing Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Dénis Bouanga, echoed his coach's words with regard to his own winding journey from the Canadian Premier League to MLS NEXT Pro to MLS Cup winner.

“Never in my life would I have thought of this,” said Farsi post-match. “Never in my life would I have thought about playing in MLS and winning MLS. It just shows that you have to dream big and be limitless. … Impossible is an opinion.”

For comeback players like Matan, who spent last year on loan with Rapid București in his native Romania, both the closeness of the team and the consistent positive messaging within the locker room were paramount to Saturday night’s success.

“Even in my best dreams, I wouldn't imagine this thing right now,” said Matan. “So last year this time, like in December, I was in a depression. I had an injury, on loan, my career was not going in the right direction for me. Right now it's unbelievable. I have no words.”

And in post-match moments both obvious, like players from nations all over the world coming together to sing and dance in the locker room, and subtle, like defender Steven Moreira briefly pausing the celebrations to make sure team staffers got a beer shower, the team’s unity was clear.

“Everybody loves each other, we’re so close. Everybody supports each other,” said goal-scorer Yeboah after the match. “For me, it's been amazing. One of the best groups that I've been a part of.”

Cup returns to Columbus

Though any in-game faulters were quickly forgotten after the final whistle, not everything went smoothly for the Crew on Saturday. LAFC snagged a goal against the run of play in the 74th minute when Jesús Murillo jumped a pass from Darlington Nagbe, ran the ball straight down the pitch and set up Bouanga for the finish.

But Columbus exorcised their previous late-match-blunder demons, which had haunted them in 2022 and parts of 2023, with a professional performance to see the win out.

“We learned from our mistakes all year,” said Christian Ramírez, who helped kill the game as an 86th-minute sub. “We could’ve probably won the Supporters’ Shield if we were more experienced, but we showed how much we’ve grown this year.”

Now, the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy returns to Columbus for the second time since 2020 – a remarkable feat considering the team nearly relocated to Austin before the supporter-led Save The Crew movement helped keep them in Ohio’s capital city.

Unlike their previous triumph, though, when COVID-19 restrictions meant the team had to celebrate with a sparsely-filled stadium, 2023's victory came in front of a Field record crowd of 20,802 fans.

“Two in four years. I think that's special,” said team captain Darlington Nagbe, who went to high school and college just outside of nearby Cleveland. “Not just from the teams, but from the organization and direction that they want to head in. And the special thing about tonight is also we didn't get a chance to pack the stadium a couple of years ago.”

And as if making up for 2020’s lost moments of fandom, the sell-out crowd made sure to chant, sing and drum with unparalleled passion all night.

“There’s no way to describe them,” said Yeboah. “They’ve been amazing since day one… We knew we had to do something for them, to win for them.”

Win they did, revealing the truth in Nancy's teachings.

“[Impossible is just an opinion] was something he harped on from the very first day,” said Cucho. “We believed in it and we showed it.”