Columbus Crew SC booked a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, spoiling New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber's debut by scoring three straight goals in a 3-2 win on Saturday evening at MAPFRE Stadium in Round One of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The clubs entered halftime deadlocked at 1-1, but the Crew opened a 2-1 lead through Darlington Nagbe 23 seconds into the second half. Lucas Zelarayan first hit the post with a long-range shot, then Derrick Etienne Jr.’s shot was parried away and Nagbe followed up in the 46th minute to clean everything up.
The momentum carried into the 68th minute when Gyasi Zardes cushioned a looping header back across goal for the 3-1 lead. He latched onto a deep cross from Etienne Jr. at the back post, then supplied the eventual game-winner.
The Crew seemed to be cruising comfortably, but the Red Bulls made it 3-2 through Brian White in the 90th minute. The forward one-timed home a low, driven Jared Stroud cross from the right flank, making for a frenetic finish that nearly saw Tom Barlow provide an equalizer in the 93rd minute.
To spark their three-goal run, Columbus first had to respond to an opening tally from RBNY youngster Caden Clark. The midfielder laced home a left-footed strike from near the PK spot after a poor Crew clearance, giving New York a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
However, Columbus quickly responded in the 26th minute via a Pedro Santos penalty kick to draw the game level at 1-1. He was tripped up in the 18-yard box by Dru Yearwood, then narrowly beat goalkeeper Ryan Meara with his left-footed shot.
- 23' – RBNY – Caden Clark | WATCH
- 26' – CLB – Pedro Santos (PK) | WATCH
- 46' – CLB – Darlington Nagbe | WATCH
- 68' – CLB – Gyasi Zardes | WATCH
- 90' – RBNY – Brian White | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: After missing the playoffs in 2019, the Crew vowed to return and challenge for MLS Cup. Caleb Porter’s team remains on that path, and the big guns – Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan, Gyasi Zardes, etc. – came up big. The Red Bulls made the game interesting at the end, but will have to wait another year for another chance at MLS Cup. They’ve made the playoffs 11 straight seasons, only to come up short each time. Could Struber, who was coaching his first game, buck the trend in 2021?
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Gyasi Zardes probably thought his 68th-minute goal was only adding insult to injury, but it ended up being the game-winner. The US men’s national team striker’s header worked the angles perfectly, too.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Darlington Nagbe’s goal generates some love, but so did his all-around play in midfield. The Crew acquired him via trade from Atlanta United during the offseason, hoping he’d produce in big-game moments like this.