Columbus Crew SC showed its true colors on the road Wednesday night, defeating rival Chicago Fire 1-0 at Toyota Park and earning its first away win of the season.
“I think it’s partly just the guys believing in themselves and understanding how good they are and how good they can be,” Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said.
The Black & Gold headed to Chicago looking to put a disappointing result in Montreal in the rear view mirror and prove they are a force to reckon with, even away from MAPFRE Stadium. And that’s exactly what happened.
“I think for the most part, the guys were up for it,” Berhalter said. “They were up for the challenge. I think everyone was disappointed about the game in Montreal and we wanted to play better and we did.”
One could see that attitude come to life in the first half, with Crew SC firing on all cylinders. Even a Herculean performance from Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who recorded six saves on the night, wasn’t enough to stem the bombardment of Crew SC shots. As the match neared the first-half whistle, Crew SC’s consistent pressure proved too heavy to handle.
With a change in possession thanks to the defensive efforts of Michael Parkhurst and Wil Trapp, midfielder Ethan Finlay seized an opportunity of open space behind Chicago’s midfield.
“We identified that we knew they’d have space behind them, especially in transition, and as I saw when Justin picked the ball up, I just released and played a nice ball in front, and it was off to the races,” Finlay said.
“That’s the moment when I try to find the guys in the box and I’ll take my odds on Kei [Kamara] versus anyone in the League on the back post,” Finlay continued. “I just floated it up there and he did the rest.”
As one of the best aerial finishers in the MLS, Kamara snapped home his League-leading 13th goal of the season while Finlay tallied his League-leading 11th assist.
At this point for Kamara, goal-scoring is instinctual.
“I just wanted to put the ball in the back of the net because I had a few more chances before that,” Kamara said. “Sean [Johnson] made some amazing saves tonight and give him all the credit for those. I saw the ball from Ethan and I was just thinking about putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Crew SC’s performance at Toyota Park was top-notch, and certainly one of the club’s best matches of 2015.
“I thought it was a great game for us,” Finlay said. “In the first half, it was probably some of the best football we’ve played all year. It was fantastic. It was fun to watch and it was fun to be a part of.”
For Crew SC, getting on the scoreboard first was a primary objective going into the match.
“It was great to get a goal in the first half, and we could’ve had a couple more,” Finlay said. “The second half was a little different. The second half we showed a little bit of determination, showed our ability and willpower, and overcame a very good team.”
Berhalter saw the goal scored late in the first half as a reward for brilliant play early on.
“I thought it was important [earning the first goal before half],” Berhalter said. “I think that we needed validation for playing that well. The validation is goals. We got it. You got to keep going from there.”
For Columbus, perhaps the truest validation is the overall result – three points and a seat towards the top of the Eastern Conference table. With the victory, the Black & Gold now stand solely in second place with 27 points in 20 games played.
For Finlay, putting the club in a winning position is at the forefront, and with Chicago coming to MAPFRE Stadium for Sunday’s nationally-televised match, he’ll have that opportunity again.
“What’s more important is where [the win] puts us in the standings right now,” Finlay said. “There’s a lot of teams bunched up right here. Chicago’s a team that’s in the lower half of the table, and we need to take advantage of those teams right now. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do that last week against Montreal, but we’re happy with this win here. We need another win back home on Sunday.”
The Black & Gold return to the pitch for round two against the Fire at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 19.