Finlay's late-winner punctuates tremendous team win
Tonight's Crew match will be remembered for Federico Higuain's gorgeous free kick and Ethan Finlay's late match-winner, as well it should. But to focus on those two plays overshadows the reality of Saturday night's triumph in New England – this was a great team victory by a side that continues to look more confident with each passing match.
"I'm pleased," said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. "New England has quality up top. They have a lot of versatile guys that move around and make it difficult. We defended well and created enough chances to win the game, so overall I'm pleased. You need these games to build a team. You need to be battle-tested and games like this battle-test you."
Berhalter pointed out that the Crew's past two wins (vs. Montreal and now at New England) were rough-and-tumble style games that featured the Black & Gold needing to close out the victory under pressure.
"If you look at the Portland game, we should have gotten three points out of that one," said the Crew boss. "If you look at the Toronto game, we should have gotten three points out of that one, in Toronto. These games, we've closed. The Montreal game, we came from behind and had the last stretch where we had to grind it out and we did it. This game, same type of environment and we did it. That's the difference right now."
Pipa's majestic, bending free kick and Finlay's finish after a fantastic ball from Justin Meram were the two biggest plays, but this match was full of smaller moments that led to the victory, particularly on defense at the start of the second half, where New England could have done more damage beyond A.J. Soares' equalizer.
"You have to be able to withstand the storm," said Finlay. "They came out strong in the first half, getting several awesome opportunities but we held on and were able to get a goal before halftime. They have a lot of guys that are tricky and able to do one-two’s, which made our job harder today but like I said we were able to withstand their storm and come away on top tonight."
Withstand the storm the Crew did, and through slow build-up in its direction, Columbus was able to find a winner and a road three points against a side it entered the night level with.
"I felt it was coming. I really did," said Berhalter on the winner. "I felt that we had a bunch of set pieces that we were extremely dangerous on, a couple of good runs in the box that we were really dangerous on. I felt like the goal was coming and the goal itself was a fantastic move. We talked about it at half time: the outside guy moving from the outside to inside, getting behind the center backs. It was exactly what we talked about. It was great execution."