COLUMBUS – A quartet of goals by forward Ola Kamara, midfielders Artur and Justin Meram and defender Harrison Afful landed Columbus Crew SC in the driver’s seat of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals after the first leg against New York City FC.
The 4-1 victory for the Black & Gold at MAPFRE Stadium yielded Crew SC momentum and an aggregate-scoring lead as they will attempt to #ClaimGlory in the final leg of the series in New York City on Sunday, Nov 5.
In just the sixth minute, Federico Higuain took a quick shot in the box of NYCFC, only to have it deflected. Kamara, Crew SC’s leading scorer this season, found the deflection and slotted it home to give the Black & Gold a 1-0 lead in the game that they would not relinquish. The goal also stretched Columbus’ unbeaten streak to 12.
A turning point came in the 52nd minute after video review showed what appeared to be an elbow by NYCFC defender Alexander Callens on Meram on a set piece. Callens was given a red card and ejected as a result and will be suspended for the second match of the playoff series.
The Black & Gold attacked the south end of the stadium in the 59th minute, and it ended in Artur’s first career MLS goal with Crew SC. The Brazilian rookie received a ball from Higuain and crossed over deep in the box before finishing near the right post to push the lead to 2-0.
Meram brought the ball in on the run during the 69th minute and fired a shot towards NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The ball ricocheted off the keeper’s hands and kissed the back of the net to produce a 3-0 lead. Kamara and Higuain were credited with assists on the play.
New York City forward David Villa found a deflected ball in the box during the 78th minute and redirected it into the net to make the score 3-1.
Afful outmaneuvered four NYCFC defenders in the box during stoppage time to score a stunning goal to raise the final score and tally to 4-1. Before making his moves, Afful received the ball from Meram, who was credited with an assist.
The match was Crew SC’s fourth in just 16 days. It was the first time the Black & Gold played in front of their home crowd since Sept. 30 against D.C. United.
Despite being outshot by NYCFC during the match by a split of 19-14, Crew SC made their attempts count. Seven shots were put on target by the Black & Gold compared to New York City’s three.
The second and final leg of Crew SC’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series with NYCFC will take place on Sunday, Nov. 5 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Venue: MAPFRE Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)
Referee: Alan Kelly
Assistants: Matthew Nelson, Brian Dunn
Fourth Official: Ismail Elfath
Video Assistant Referee: Chris Penso
6’ – CLB – Ola Kamara
59’ – CLB – Artur (Federico Higuain)
69’ – CLB – Justin Meram (Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain)
78’ – NYC – David Villa
90’+3’ – CLB – Harrison Afful (Justin Meram)
NYC – Alexander Callens (Ejection) 52’
NYC – Ronald Matarrita (Caution) 64’
Columbus Crew SC: Zack Steffen; Hector Jimenez, Josh Williams, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful; Artur (Mohammed Abu 90’+1’), Wil Trapp (c); Justin Meram, Federico Higuain (Lalas Abubakar 88’), Pedro Santos (Kekuta Manneh 75’); Ola Kamara
Substitutes not used: Brad Stuver, Waylon Francis, Niko Hansen, Adam Jahn
New York City FC: Sean Johnson; Ben Sweat, Alexander Callens, Frederic Brillant, Ethan White (Andraz Struna 74’); Maximiliano Moralez, Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera; Rodney Wallace (Ronald Matarrita 56’), David Villa (c), Jack Harrison (Sean Ugo Okoli 79’)
Substitutes not used: Eirik Johansen, Mikey Lopez, Jonathan Lewis, Thomas McNamara
The other side
Last night, Toronto FC earned a 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on the other end of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals. The final match of that series will be played in Toronto at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5. The eventual winner of the Eastern Conference will host the MLS Cup by virtue of the records of the teams remaining both in the east and out west.
More of the same
The regular season leaders in goals and assists for Columbus struck again on Tuesday night, this time in playoff action. Kamara netted 18 goals during the 2017 campaign while Higuain provided 14 assists.
With the playoff victory over NYCFC on Tuesday night, Crew SC has not lost a home match at MAPFRE Stadium since July 1. The Black & Gold have also won six of seven matches in the span.