BRONX, N.Y. – It was certainly not pretty, but it was enough.
Columbus Crew SC fell, 2-0, to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, but advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship via a 4-3 aggregate score. The healthy advantage Crew SC established in last week’s first leg allowed them to take a more defensive-minded approach in the trip to the Big Apple, and they were able to hang onto their lead despite turning in a subpar performance.
“It was a sloppy game for us,” said Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen. “They came out flying and their fans were behind them and they have a lot of individual talent and they exposed us at times. But we battled through it for 95 minutes and we had each other’s backs and didn’t give up and that’s all that matters.”
For Columbus, Sunday was more about fight, grit, and determination than beautiful soccer. Crew SC admittedly wanted to try and hit on the counterattack to better effect, but were nonetheless content with staying organized and compact at the back to make things tough for NYCFC.
“That’s the difficult part of the job: Coming up with a gameplan when you’re up 4-1 and you go away,” said Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter. “That was our dilemma, our DNA is not to sit back.”
Things got off to bad start for Columbus, as they gave up a 16th-minute goal via a David Villa penalty kick. It was not until early in the second half, however, when things got nerve-wracking.
A finish from Andraz Struna eight minutes after halftime brought NYCFC within a goal of pulling off the improbable comeback. They nearly found it too, but an impressive Rodney Wallace effort in the 70th minute was denied by the near post.
NYCFC continued to pour on the pressure from there with waves of attacks, but Crew SC stayed focused and scrapped their way to the finish line.
“We didn’t put our heads down,” said Columbus center back Jonathan Mensah of his side’s approach after going down 2-0. “We just picked it up and fought through it.”
Up next for Crew SC is a pair of showdowns against Toronto FC, with a spot in the MLS Cup final up for grabs. Columbus know they have to improve and get back to playing their brand of soccer if they are to have a shot at getting to the title game, but pragmatism, commitment to the cause, and hard work sufficed on Sunday.
“It’s tricky with a scoreline that you’re trying to protect,” said Berhalter, “But at the end of the day we got it done.”