COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC is earning “team of destiny” tags in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, and a 4-1 victory over New York City FC won’t stop anyone from jumping on the bandwagon.
The club stunned the visitors at MAPFRE Stadium Tuesday night, capping a wild match with a stoppage-time goal from Harrison Afful that all but puts the series out of reach for NYCFC.
The fullback said after the match that his weaving, patient run and shot will be a goal he’ll always remember.
“Credit goes to all the guys,” he said. “I had been waiting for a long time to get a goal, and finally [it happened] this year. I’m happy and enjoying this moment.”
It was Afful’s first goal since a stunning long-distance shot last season – also against goalkeeper Sean Johnson – and teammate Justin Meram was left virtually speechless by the effort.
“I don’t even know what to say about that goal,” he said. “Harrison’s special. Honestly, I just couldn’t believe the goal. But that’s him. He does this stuff in training sometimes that you guys don’t see. That’s what makes him special.”
Columbus may have scored the backbreaker in stoppage time, but they seized control of the match far earlier. The club came flying out of the gates, and a 6th minute opener from Ola Kamara put them in the driver’s seat.
Still riding high from the momentum of an exhilarating 0-0 match against Atlanta United that had to be decided on penalty kicks, Head head coach Gregg Berhalter said that aggressive start was exactly the plan.
“The message to the group was focused on getting a good start to the game – being very aggressive, showing that we’re at home, getting the fans behind us and really trying to attack them,” he said. “I think we did that.”
Midfielder Artur, who scored his first MLS goal to put Columbus up 2-0, said the combination of the win and the Atlanta game has made for a confident squad.
“Our team has confidence,” he said. “We won a big game against Atlanta and we feel comfortable and confident. We have a good team.”
But that confidence isn’t translating into arrogance, according to the team and coaching staff. Meram said the players are very aware of the Cityzens' ability to “score in bunches,” and Berhalter reiterated that he won’t let his players assume they’re through to the next round.
“Our work isn’t done by a long shot,” Berhalter said. “I think the guys have a good understanding of that. We made that clear in the locker room. There are 90 minutes, maybe extra time to play, and until this series is over, it’s going to be tough.”
And while the night was exciting on its own, Berhalter gave a nod to the fans, who he said were in the team’s mind during a tumultuous off-the-field time in Columbus.
“We repurposed our mission right now, and it’s solely to play for the fans and give them as many home games as we can and let them enjoy something,” he said.