Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew rolled to a large opening match win at the MLS is Back Tournament, but are remaining humble ahead of a date with the New York Red Bulls on Thursday.
Both teams picked up important wins to start Group E play and will seek a berth in the knockout stage with three points this week. The Crew rolled past Hell is Real rivals FC Cincinnati 4-0 last weekend and are trying to remain focused ahead of a tougher matchup this week.
“If you’re too high or too low, that’s not a great mentality. You don’t want a rollercoaster. You want a real business-like team that enjoys the wins, but they’re not surprised and they move on to the next one,” Porter said on a conference call Tuesday.
“The best team doesn’t win. It’s the team that plays best. … And I think it’s my job to push [the players] and challenge them and make sure that they’re prepared the right way and I keep them focused, but also it’s their job to hold themselves to a high standard and hold each other to a high standard, so I think it was pretty calm in the locker room after the [FC Cincinnati] game.”
Gyasi Zardes registered a brace in the win, Lucas Zelarayan registered one goal and one assist, and Youness Mukhtar also got on the score sheet. It was a dominating with for the Crew, but the loss of starting centerback Vito Wormgoor was the only blemish on what was a celebratory evening for the club.
Aboubacar Keita replaced Wormgoor for the final 75+ minutes in the match, pairing with Jonathan Mensah. Porter admitted the Dutch defender is slated to miss the rest of the tournament for Columbus, who also face Atlanta United on Matchday 3 in six days time. The former Portland Timbers boss could also be forced to make some changes to his lineup, in order to avoid any further injuries in this tournament.
“Vito has left the bubble to get his ankle evaluated by our team doctors,” Porter said. “So, it’s serious enough where we felt that was important for him to leave and get evaluated. As far as what that means and what’s going to happen, we don’t know that for sure, but he’s definitely out for the rest of the tournament.”
The Crew have claimed three regular season wins in their last five head-to-head meetings with the Red Bulls heading into Thursday’s showdown. A 1-1 draw at Mafpre Stadium in March 2019 was followed up by a 3-2 win for the Crew at Red Bulls Arena in July.
It will be the first meeting between the teams this season, with both riding three-match unbeaten streaks in 2020. The Crew certainly weren’t favored to advance past New York or Atlanta in the group, but now have a strong chance to spoil the Red Bulls’ chances of advancing with a win on Thursday.
“It’s always a hard game against them,” Porter said. “They are a very pressing team. They go high in the field and try to win the balls. I think we are prepared, we have faced them a few times already in preseason and late last season. So I think we are ready. We know what they are capable of and we are going to do everything we need to do to be ready for this game.”
“I think there’s a certain element when you play New York that you have to be up for mentality wise, physicality wise, and we’ve done a good job of that type of game in the past of being up for that and that type of game. Not being caught off guard with the first and second balls, and duals and direct play and disruptive and effective style that they play. So we’re usually ready for that.
:But, also, we don’t get caught up in it so much where they’re doing what they’re doing best. We still have to play our game. We still have to get the ball down through them and behind them and get that control that we look for, that we want.”
The Red Bulls used a first-half goal from Florian Valot to down Atlanta United 1-0 last weekend and overall defended heavily down the stretch to earn the win. Columbus will look to respond with a strong start like they did against Cincinnati, but ultimately will have a tougher challenge on their hands from the opening whistle.