COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a disappointing start to 2017, Columbus Crew SC have arrived.
The club’s first victory of the season came last week. But a visit from the previously unblemished Portland Timbers – playing in Columbus for the first time since their 2015 MLS Cup win – provided a chance to make more of a statement than dominating a goalless D.C. United side.
"The idea was to send a message,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “Send a message that we're a good team, that we can hurt teams.”
Columbus did just that, rebounding from a fourth-minute deficit to beat Portland 3-2 with first-half strikes from Justin Meram and Ola Kamara and a game-winner in the 84th minute from rookie Niko Hansen, making his MLS debut.
Meram said the players could feel a “buzz” beforehand, and the Crew SC players said there was plenty of extra motivation given the opponent and the situation.
“We want to send [the message] to everybody – our fans and everybody – that this year we’ve been doing a good job and we’re going to be good this year,” Kamara said. “Portland was a team that, coming in, had nine points and we beat them. I think we dominated them.”
Berhalter had been “disappointed” by his team’s opening-day draw against the Chicago Fire and a stunning 3-1 blowout in Houston in Week 2. Now, after two wins in a row, the Columbus boss said he was “really proud” of his group.
“We had a gameplan, and it was going to take a ton of discipline from them to execute it,” he said. “Credit the guys for their fortitude and their perseverance to just keep going and eventually get the goal.”
Thanks to a light week with just three league games, Crew SC now sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. And with a second win under their belt and a bit of confidence, the team is starting to earn results that match their ambition.
“To [Portland] or to the league, to everybody, this is a team with a lot of quality,” Meram said. “We’re going to compete with the best of them.”