COLUMBUS, Ohio—Playing without prolific striker Kei Kamara and playmaker Federico Higuain, Columbus Crew SC annihilated D.C. United 5-0 on #DecisionDay to vault into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and earn a Knockout Round bye in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
With goals from Jack McInerney, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay and Aaron Schoenfeld and assists from McInerney, Mohammed Saeid, Michael Parkhurst, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani and Waylon Francis, the club put in perhaps their best all-around performance of the season.
For Finlay, that team effort to replace Kamara and Higuain was one of the highlights of the win.
“The best part of the performance was how many guys we used tonight, whether they were starting or off the bench,” Finlay said. “They came in and played some huge minutes and played well. It was a playoff atmosphere, and for those guys to step in who maybe didn’t have minutes under their belt before, they played tremendously tonight.”
The win closed out a season-ending stretch of matches for Columbus against D.C., Portland Timbers, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC and D.C. again.
Head Coach Gregg Berhalter had said after 2-1 losses to Portland and New York that the games would help the team grow. He believed Sunday to be proof.
“In a game that we needed to win, we showed up,” Berhalter said. “I’ve been telling you guys for months now that the end of the season has prepared us. We’ve talked about how we’ve had a tough stretch. The games we’ve been playing are preparing us for these type of games. Then you finally get in a game that you have to prove yourselves, and we did it … This team is battle-ready and battle-proven.”
Riding that momentum into the playoffs, how good can this Crew SC team be? Meram says “of course” he thinks they’re an MLS Cup-caliber squad.
“That’s the only thing you’re thinking about,” Meram said. “Last year was the farthest [in the playoffs] I’ve been since I’ve been in Columbus, and here we are, we got second in the East. It’s pretty exciting. This is the best time of the year.”
But club captain and MLS veteran Parkhurst knows there’s more to it than excitement. He says “it’s hard to know,” where Columbus’s ceiling is.
“I think that we can accomplish all of our goals if we’re focused, if we have the right mentality and a little bit of luck,” Parkhurst said. “It takes all of those things to make a run to MLS Cup. This group is capable of it, but it takes 90 minutes after 90 minutes. Hopefully we start it off on the right foot this weekend.”
Finlay echoed his teammates’ cautious optimism.
“Any time you go into the postseason winning and playing some of your best soccer, you’re on a good track,” Finlay said. “So we’re extremely happy about it, but the playoffs is a whole [different] beast.”
Berhalter stayed true to his one-game-at-a-time motto. Unsurprisingly, he’s already moving on from the monumental win.
“After we leave this room and after tonight, this game is history and we’re focused on the playoffs,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about this game next week, we’re not going to focus on it, we’re not going to celebrate it. It’s over.”