The Columbus Crew may have had a poor fun of form since late September, but it didn’t stop them from earning its biggest win of the 2020 MLS regular season on Sunday.
Caleb Porter’s side kept its Supporters’ Shield hopes alive with a 2-1 victory at a snowy and windy Mafpre Stadium over first place Philadelphia Union. Not only was it a bounce-back performance from a disappointing 1-0 loss to D.C. United, but it was the Crew’s second straight win over Jim Curtin’s squad.
Sunday’s win proved that the Crew remain well in the fight for a top spot in the Eastern Conference and could finish as high as No. 1 with two matches to play.
“It was a great game,” Porter said. “Great win. Couldn’t come at a better time. We knew it was a big game in a lot of different ways and for a lot of different reasons. Playing a team that was at the top of the table who wanted to come in here and be able to celebrate [winning] a Supporters’ Shield, we didn’t want to let that happen. The guys were not going to let that happen here on our home field. It’s great to get back to looking like us – winning [and] beating a very good team. This will bode well for the next several games and obviously for the playoffs.”
“It was the first time in 12 games, since the last time we played – ironically – Philadelphia, that we had a full-strength lineup. And I think it showed tonight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a playoff-type game. [There were] some crazy conditions with the wind. [There were] some mistakes both ways, but that’s to be expected certainly from our end getting back into a rhythm with that [starting] 11 being together for the first time, they needed quite some time.”
The Crew have showed signs of inconsistency at the worst time this regular season, but came up with its best result over the past two months. Goalkeeper Eloy Room starred for the Crew, making eight saves to earn the victory despite seeing his attacking teammates put only three shots on Joe Bendik’s goal.
Luckily for Room and for the Crew, two of those three shots beat Bendik and earned Columbus three points in crazy weather conditions. Artur’s fourth-career MLS goal put the Crew in front while a pair of second-half substitutes won the game for Columbus late.
Luis Diaz connected with Krisztian Nemeth with under 10 minutes to play for the winning goal. Room made a few more saves in the final minutes to preserve the win, but it was all Columbus needed to stay alive in the East.
“I just joined the team a month ago, so every day I feel much better,” Nemeth said. “I [have] learned [about] the team and how to play [within it]. Of course, I came here because I saw the squad is very strong and we have a chance to win the League, and we are almost there. Then, the most important game of the season was coming, so that’s why everybody had to be ready. But, when I came in, I just hoped to help the team and finally, it happened. So, I am happy for the goal and for the win.”
“To me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m starting a match or whether I’m coming off the bench,” Diaz, [who has made 16 MLS appearances this season], said. “What matters is that I’m trying to help the team, and any time that I am given the chance to go on the field, I’m going to make the most out of it. But first and foremost, it’s always just helping the team and helping the team be better.”
While there were some worrying signs for the Crew, the fact they continued its dominance at Mafpre Stadium over the Union is a major positive. Now the Crew will welcome Orlando City to town midweek before hosting Atlanta United on Decision Day, needing to win both games for a chance at the Supporters’ Shield.
However, after grinding out an important three points Sunday, the Crew know anything is possible with 180 minutes of regular season action left to play.
“I don’t think inside the locker room – certainly amongst our staff or people inside the Club – that our belief in the group ever wavered. That’s really important throughout a season to keep a steady hand, keep your head screwed on right, make sure your guys understand the reality [and] that we keep our current perspective in mind, which is the most important [thing],” Porter said.
“We went through a rough stretch, [playing] five of seven games on the road and we obviously had some guys out as well. We still didn’t make excuses. We didn’t obviously like not getting as many points as we wanted to. We didn’t accept it. But we knew the perspective on it. We knew obviously that at this stage in the season – getting healthy – that we would re-establish who we are as a team, and I think we showed that tonight.”