Columbus Crew SC praise Tyson Wahl, but defender expects Gaston Sauro to return to lineup for Leg 2 vs. New York Red Bulls

OBETZ, Ohio – With their 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series on Sunday, Columbus Crew SC became the first team since the Philadelphia Union on May 24 to keep a clean sheet against the Supporters’ Shield winners.

The shutout was only Columbus’s seventh of the season, and it came with Tyson Wahl slotting into central defense alongside Michael Parkhurst in relief of the suspended Gaston Sauro.

The veteran put in one of his best shifts of the season, and his coach and teammates and coaches gave him much of the credit for the defensive performance.

“A lot of credit should go to Tyson for the performance he put in; I think it was excellent,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “And it’s not easy to come into a situation like that and play in a conference final. And he showed why we value him so highly with his performance.”

The match was Wahl’s first since Sept. 26 against the Portland Timbers, and the 31-year-old defender said he was pleased with the performance.

“It felt great,” he said. “I felt like I was really in the moment and just kind of trying to play every second of the match fully concentrated.”

Despite the performance and the shutout, Wahl doesn’t expect to be back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s second leg with Sauro set to return from his yellow card accumulation suspension (7:30 pm ET; FS1 and FOX Deportes in the US, TSNGo in Canada).

“I expect Gaston to be back in,” Wahl said. “He got a yellow card [suspension] and I was filling in for him, so that’s what I expect.”

Berhalter, however, says he hasn’t decided whether Wahl will continue on or if Sauro will return this weekend at Red Bull Arena. That decision will come in evaluating the match, the week of training, fitness and a collection of other factors.

“It’s a process,” he said. “We don’t make rash decisions and we don’t decide things based on a single event. So we’ll take everything into consideration.”

For Wahl, another appearance on the bench wouldn’t be a moment of frustration. While he says his status as a fringe starter isn’t ideal, his focus is on the team and their playoff run.

“I always see myself as a starter, and I have for a long time now,” he said. “Because I haven’t been a consistent starter throughout my career, I think by this point I would have driven myself insane if I were losing sleep every night. So my approach is just to play as well as I can and concentrate every practice and every game.

“I’m definitely not satisfied, or happy if the coach doesn’t decide to play me. I’m not happy with that. But I’m still going to be a good teammate and I’m still going to show up gameday and support the team.”

But Wahl says his good performance brought him “up to speed” with the rest of the team in playoff form and added confidence. The match did the same for Parkhurst, who says he trusts whoever his partner at center back will be.

“It’s good that we have depth, and I thought Tyson was fantastic on the weekend,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who plays there, they’re going to be capable, they’re going to play well, they’re going to be confident, and we need them to be.”

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