Crew play-by-play announcer Neil Sika said it best upon the final whistle: "survive and advance."
That's exactly what nine-man Columbus did in the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against NASL side Indy Eleven on Tuesday night. In a tournament known for its similarly styled upsets, no phrase more accurately describes the Black & Gold's gritty effort than the one commonly used in March Madness.
After scoring in the fourth minute through a Bernardo Anor header, the Crew lost Adam Bedell to a red card, conceded an equalizer to Blake Smith, and then lost Daniel Paladini to a second red card in extra-time. Despite the setbacks, Columbus found a way to persevere and win, with Ethan Finlay drawing a penalty and Jairo Arrieta burying the winner in the 114th minute.
"You have to give credit to the guys that were out there, guys that played the entire game," said Crew defender Chad Barson, who was playing on his former college pitch at the University of Akron's FirstEnergy Stadium. "They were tired and fatigued, but they were battling. Sometimes the game comes down to that. We’ve seen that earlier this year in some of our League matches that it’s not always going to be pretty. You need to grit it out and find a way to win. That’s what we were able to do tonight."
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter even went as far to say that playing with ten and then nine men was an experience that will benefit his club in the long run.
"It was a good opportunity for guys to have to dig and be challenged," said the Crew boss. "The exercise of playing with ten men and then nine men is, in the end, going to be helpful to this group. We proved we could do it and they felt comfortable doing it. For a large portion of the game, we’re down a man and still in control, for the most part."
There were some nervy moments for the Crew in the second half, as Indy had a goal that would have put them ahead 2-1 waved off for offside, but throughout extra-time, the shorthanded Black & Gold began to assert themselves, eventually finding the winner.
"[The win says] that no one gives up. We’re battling and fighting for each other," said Barson. "Even though we’re down a man and then two men, we can still win this game. We just had to stay disciplined and organized, and when we got a chance to capitalize to make sure we did."
With the win, the Crew moves on to the Fifth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where it awaits the winner of Wednesday's Chicago Fire/Pittsburgh Riverhounds clash. If Chicago wins, the Crew will be playing at Toyota Park in its next tournament match. Should Pittsburgh win, the Riverhounds will travel to Columbus.
No matter who the Crew plays next, it advances in this tournament confident in its abilities to get a win against all odds, truly having to earn it against Indy tonight.
"I think it says a lot about our character — that we’re resilient and we’re a team that’s going to fight and battle, even when the conditions aren’t ideal for us," said Barson. "I think we showed that tonight. Props to the guys on our team that had to play the entire game. They really battled and fought through it. It was a total team effort tonight. I’m proud that we were able to come out on top and find a way to win."