BRONX, N.Y. – Two things made Columbus Crew SC happy on Sunday: Their advancement to the Eastern Conference Championship, and the fact that they are headed for a much-needed break.
Crew SC survived their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against New York City FC on Sunday night, winning, 4-3, on aggregate despite falling 2-0 at Yankee Stadium in the decisive leg. Columbus will next take on Toronto FC for a place in the MLS Cup Final, but not before enjoying a week of respite.
Gregg Berhalter’s side has played four matches in the past 14 days, and admitted on Sunday that they could use some time off to rest and recover.
“That’s huge. I think that’s something that people are forgetting,” said head coach Berhalter of having a pause from the action. “We’ve been running hard between the last game of the season, then you go to Atlanta and play 120 minutes, and then back home and then here. The guys are tired, they’re fatigued, but the one thing I can say is they left everything on the field. They gave every ounce of energy and we’re proud of them for that.”
Columbus grinded their way past NYCFC on Sunday, doing just enough to protect their healthy 4-1 lead from the first leg. Crew SC’s defensive-minded approach may have worked in the Big Apple, but know they have to play much sharper if they are to knock off Toronto in their two-legged affair.
Yes, Columbus benefit from not having to face the dangerous duo of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in the first leg because of suspension, but the challenge against a Toronto side that has proven to be deep is a steep one nonetheless.
“We had a win and two losses [against them], and we know that they’re a quality team and they have a lot of pieces that can hurt you,” said midfielder Wil Trapp. “I know that there’s some red cards and yellow cards that came out today, but that still doesn’t change the fact that they are a good team and can beat you in many ways.”
If Crew SC can move past Toronto FC and reach the 2017 MLS Cup, Columbus will reach and host the championship bout for the second time in three years. They last made it to the title game in 2015, but lost to the Portland Timbers at MAPFRE Stadium.
“We have dreams of playing in that game again,” said playmaker Federico Higuain. “We would love to return there. We had the opportunity in 2015, but we didn’t take full advantage of it. We want to play that game again. We want to play those 90 minutes again.”