Postseason play brings out a new level of tension. In a thrilling, immensely dramatic final 20 minutes during Sunday’s Eastern Conference Championship at Red Bull Arena, Columbus Crew SC bent but it did not break, as the Black & Gold held on to a 2-1 aggregate lead to advance to the 2015 MLS Cup. Here's a breakdown of the action by the numbers:
For the second time in club history, Columbus Crew SC is off to the MLS Cup. Crew SC last appeared in the MLS Cup in 2008 when Columbus topped the Red Bulls 3-1 in Los Angeles. This time around, Crew SC won’t have to travel whatsoever. Columbus will host Portland on Sunday, December 6 at MAPFRE Stadium.
Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Red Bulls were expected to throw numbers forward and give Crew SC’s backline plenty of work. Columbus weathered the storm and took pressure off of Steve Clark, clearing away 41 balls and overcoming disadvantages in possession (59.1-40.9), crosses (36-19) and completed passes (546-384). Despite the offensive surge, Columbus allowed only six on-target shots. Gastón Sauro recorded several key clearances in his first game back from a yellow card accumulation suspension, co-anchoring a stiff defensive front with Barbasol Man of the Match Michael Parkhurst.
Crew SC Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter said prior to kickoff that Crew SC sought at least one goal to give Columbus a cushion. Columbus registered nine shots, most of which came off counterattacking opportunities. Crew SC focused mostly on defending with 20 minutes left to play, keeping Columbus just off its 14 shot per playoff match clip, which it carried into Sunday’s match.
Sunday’s match was chippy, to say the least. Officials called 18 fouls and gave out three yellow cards, but that doesn’t account for the physical, rough-and-tumble play which lasted all 95-plus minutes.