COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Crew SC earned a point at home Saturday night in dramatic fashion, mounting a dramatic three-goal comeback in the final 23 minutes of the match to level the score at 3-3 against rivals Toronto FC.
“I’m really proud of the guys for that type of comeback,” said head coach Gregg Berhalter. “It’s very uncommon, in soccer, to come back from three goals down and get anything out of the game. So I’m really proud.”
After more than an hour, all seemed lost for Columbus, who trailed by three goals at home thanks to a penalty kick, a poor defensive play and yet another Sebastian Giovinco free kick.
But in the 63rd minute, Berhalter changed the game by making a three-man substitution, bringing Alex Crognale, Eduardo Sosa and Luis Argudo into the game and changing to an aggressive 3-4-2-1 formation that gave Columbus life for the first time.
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They scored their first goal just four minutes later thanks to Gyasi Zardes, and Crognale brought Crew SC within one in the 81st minute. A foul in the Toronto box by Reds captain Michael Bradley gave Federico Higuain a 90th-minute penalty kick, and the Columbus playmaker completed the emotional comeback at 3-3.
In the Columbus locker room, most players said they had never been part of such an impressive comeback, and defender Josh Williams said he began to feel they could pull it off after the first goal.
“You could kind of feel Toronto get a little tense, and we began to grow in confidence,” he said. “So once the second one happened, we were like a pack of wolves. I made sure to look at everyone and kind of let them know [that] goal puts us within reach. To look in other guys' eyes, the look in all their eyes was just intense.”
Crognale said the trio of substitutes were “motivated” to change the game, and encouraged by Berhalter’s direction. And Crognale said playing for a coach willing to make a drastic change and empower his players means “you’re confident, being his player.”
“He does this every week,” Crognale said. “We go down to 10 men in Seattle and he makes a switch and puts on a center back and we preserve a point. Sporting KC we’re down to 10 men, and he does the same thing and we get a result. He shows his versatility as a coach week-in and week-out. He’s a brilliant mind.”
But for Berhalter, the game still represents a learning experience – he wasn’t thrilled to be down by three goals in the first place.
“It’s very clear when you look at the two halves,” he said. “It’s very clear when you look at how it started and how it ended. The speed is so much different, the urgency. The guys doing the little things, the guys competing. It was a great game to teach that. I hope the lesson was learned.”
And in following Berhalter’s lead, Williams said the draw doesn’t feel like a win.
“I’m still disappointed,” he said. “Coming off of five shutouts in a row, and they scored three on us; it’s not a loss. I’m not going to go home and beat my head against the door, but I thought we left some points on the table.”