Columbus Crew SC’s Crew96Skamzz (aka Graham Ellix) shocked the field to earn a berth in eMLS Cup presented by Coca-Cola and PlayStation in Friday's Last Chance Qualifier, defeating higher-seeded opponents in all four of his matches to claim the 12th and final place in eMLS’s showcase event on Sunday (1 pm ET | Twitch and Twitter).
The No. 20-ranked Ellix posted a 1-0 win over Orlando City's FIFA Abe in the final, showing the persistence he'd demonstrated all day to score the deciding goal with Josef Martinez early in the second half.
The goal, and the final whistle, provoked emotional celebrations from the Crew gamer, who defeated Seattle's TheMarsBars (No. 19 overall), D.C. United's KingCJ0 (No. 12, the highest ranked player in the Last Chance Qualifier), Colorado's Gonzo (No. 15), and finally No. 17-ranked FIFA Abe (see all results). Friday's win now earns him a matchup against LAFC's RemiMartinn, one of the much-vaunted newcomers to the circuit in 2020.
All of Crew96Skamzz's games were close ones, with his opening showdown with TheMarsBars going to penalties after a wild 3-3 draw, before his semifinal against Gonzo was also decided from the spot after a scoreless draw. He posted one-goal victories in his other two games, reflecting a broader trend in Friday's action, and one that could come into play again at eMLS Cup.
With revised eMLS Cup rules mandating that players use up to 8 of 11 available MLS Team of the Season cards, plus gold, silver or bronze MLS players to fill out their lineups, the squads in the tournament looked much more similar than in previous edition. That led to a lot of close contests, with 9 of the 13 games on Friday being decided by either one goal or penalty kicks, and hints at another day of closely-fought games when the eMLS Cup winner is crowned on Sunday.