Columbus Crew SC closed out its 2015 regular season with a statement—a 5-0 shutout of D.C. United. In their most dominant performance of the season, the Black & Gold secured second place in the East, earning a bye to the Conference Semifinals in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Columbus delivered an outstanding performance without two players who have been crucial to the Black & Gold attack this season. In the absence of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuaín due to yellow card accumulation, Crew SC showcased its depth and character, midfielder Wil Trapp said.
“It’s a huge character step,” he said. “Without two of our key guys on the field, we could still put in one of our best performances of the year in a high-pressure game. That just shows the character of our squad. […] The quality of our squad is high and guys are confident when they step on the field.”
Nine different Crew SC players recorded an assist or goal on Sunday night. One of the guys stepping up for the Black & Gold was Jack McInerney. The forward notched the opening goal in the 25th minute after knocking on the door several times earlier.
“He was great, his movement was great,” Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think it was causing D.C. [United] a lot of problems. […] it was nice to finally get the goal, and Jack, that’s what he does.”
The assist on McInerney’s goal came from Mohammed Saeid, a versatile midfielder who applied pressure and continuously got involved in the attack. When Saeid had to exit the pitch early due to a hamstring injury, Kevan George stepped in without missing a beat.
“His game has improved so much from last year to this year and he’s much more confident,” Berhalter said of George. “It’s not a surprise that he’s starting for the Trinidad [and Tobago] National Team. There’s no surprise there, and what we wanted is to give him a showcase to prove that, and he certainly did that. He was fantastic.”
George was close to netting a goal of his own, shortly after entering the match. He took a shot from outside the box that went just over the crossbar. Instead, it was Justin Meram who struck next for the Black & Gold, scoring his sixth goal of the season in the 54th minute.
Michael Parkhurst delivered his first assist this season floating a long ball to Meram, who dribbled past Sean Franklin for a left-footed near post finish. After that, it was a goal-scoring frenzy for Columbus.
“They’re down on the road so they’re going to push numbers at us,” Meram said. “So the second one was extremely important and then after that they [goals] just kept on coming and sealed the game.”
Ethan Finlay notched his 12th and 13th goals this season within a minute. But the midfielder was less impressed with his own brace than his team’s overall performance.
“I think the best part about the performance is how many guys we used tonight, whether it was starting or off the bench, they came in and played some huge minutes and played well,” Finlay said. “It’s playoffs atmosphere and for those guys to just step in and maybe didn’t have many minutes under their belt before, they played tremendous today.”
One of those guys was striker Aaron Schoenfeld, who topped off the scoring in the 81st minute as he slid in to meet Waylon Francis’ cross and closeout a match that serves as a confidence booster just ahead of the playoffs.
“I think anytime you can go into the postseason winning and playing some of your best soccer, you’re on a good track,” Finlay said. “We’re extremely happy about it, but playoffs are a whole other beast. It’s home and away and we have to be able to manage that.”
Fortunately, Berhalter says, Crew SC’s last month of playoff-like matches has prepared the team for what’s to come in the postseason.
“The end of the season’s preparing us,” he said. “We talked about how we’ve had a tough stretch, the games we’ve been playing are preparing us for these types of games, and then you finally get in a game that you have to prove yourselves and we did it.”