Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter
On Federico Higuain’s ability to play in today’s match after playing 120 minutes on Thursday
I think with all of the guys, it was assessment. We’re trying to figure out where these guys are at – guys who played the 120 minutes – where they are at physically, and then finding the balance of how many changes we can actually make and still be successful. I think that was the trick to coming up with this lineup. It wasn’t easy. I spoke to Pipa [Federico Higuain] at length and got a feeling [of] where he was at. I think he actually recovered really well and was in a position to potentially start the game, but we felt we needed something else in the first half. We needed power. We needed to stretch them. We need to open them up. We needed to really get after them in the first half, and then thinking about will he be able to maintain that for 90 minutes. We took a gamble, and we don’t normally do that. This time, I think Patrick [Mullins] came in and gave us exactly what we were looking for, and then Pipa [Higuain] came in and gave us the match-winner with a nice assist.
On if it is tough to decide to change tactics in-match
I think so. You come up with scenarios and you plan. You go through all different scenarios of what could happen in the game. In this instance, we felt comfortable knowing what we can do in the first half, knowing how we can hurt them in the first half without necessarily needing to score a goal.
On the performance by Crew SC’s centerbacks
I think Jonathan [Mensah] and Josh [Williams] were outstanding. When you think about any of the guys that played 120 minutes, to come up with this type of physical performance today… it was amazing. I talked to the guys at halftime, I said, ‘guys this is exactly what we had in mind. Great job’. So, Johnny [Jonathan Mensah] brought it today and so did Josh. A lot of tackles, a lot of duels won, a solid game by them.
On importance of shutout at home with away goals being the tiebreaker
I think that’s always important.
On Luis Argudo’s performance
Again, Luis [Argudo] is a guy that we think really highly of, and it shows by starting him in a game like tonight. I think again, he’s another player that gave us exactly what we were looking for. He competed. He was difficult to play against. He was stretching their back line. Overall, I think he had a solid contribution.
On facing the New York Red Bulls on the road next Sunday
Yeah, they’re a good team. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. We know they’re a good team, they’re a strong team. Our message to the group was, ‘We’re halfway through a 180-minute game, potentially more with extra time.’ We’re happy, but we’re not done. That’s the important message. I guarantee you in New York, it’s going to be a difficult game as it was tonight.
On Zack Steffen’s performance
Zack [Steffen], when you look at this year, and you look at our defense, how strong we’ve been, Zack hasn’t always been called into action. The mark of a goalie who is worth his weight in gold is a goalie that can come up with a big save even though he doesn’t have a lot to do, and that was exactly what Zack did tonight. To me, that was a different level that he showed he has.
On Federico Higuain’s impact when he’s on the pitch
Absolutely. It’s quality. That’s what it is. It’s a guy that can do things that not many players on that field can do, and when you introduce something like that, and you know you have him at full-power – as full as you can be after playing 120 minutes on Thursday – it’s a recipe for goal scoring opportunities, and I think he did a good job of that.
On Niko Hansen’s health
So, we still don’t have official word, I wish I could tell you more. It’s a walking boot. It doesn’t look great, but we don’t have an official word of what’s wrong.
On whether the Crew SC’s recent success in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs can outweigh the New York Red Bulls’ success during the MLS regular season
I wouldn’t get carried away. They had 21 more points than us this year. They broke the record all-time. They’re in a category by themselves. We compete, and we come up with a game plan, and hopefully we can execute it, but that’s a good team you’re talking about. I think they’ve had a great regular season, and they’ve been fun to watch.
On Federico Higuain’s entertaining style of play
It’s nice to see. He has a special ability. He does things that a lot of people can’t do. The game is about entertainment, and it’s nice to see a guy that the fans can come watch and he can do things that they can appreciate, and that’s what I think he does. Aside from that, you take his work rate, and you take his defensive pressing and those type of elements… he’s a handful.
On the performance by Crew SC’s fullbacks
I think both of our fullbacks playing 120 minutes in a fullback position [in] our system and then turning around and playing three days later is amazing. It really is. We got the distances from the game, and it’s mind-boggling that these guys are able to do it, and we put a lot on them. We gave them the mandate that they have to continue to go forward, continue to push, and they did. Credit to Milton [Valenzuela] and credit to Harry [Harrison Afful] for playing a good game.
On what the opposition thinks when a quality substitute is brought on
It’s hard for me to speculate what the opposing coach is thinking. If it was happening to us – which it did in Red Bull Arena – now you say to your group, ‘This is going to be a different challenge now.’ They brought Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kaku on at halftime when we played them in July, and you have to prepare for a different type of challenge. You know when they’re bringing quality that they can exploit.
On Jonathan Mensah’s season
I think he’s had an outstanding year, I really do. I think he’s been, to me, a Best XI caliber player… to me he’s been outstanding. If you look around the League, with a lot of center backs there are growing pains. Getting used to the League, adapting to the tempo of the League, the physicality of the League, what the refs let you get away with, what they let the strikers get away with. So, as he’s adapted, he’s a smart player, he’s an intelligent player and he’s a warrior. You see that. In duels, he’s amazing. He’s outstanding in duels – really, really strong.
On the risk of changing formations at halftime
That’s how it’s scripted, and it happened to work out today, but it might not have worked out and there was a calculated risk that we had to take. Thankfully, it did work out. Thankfully, we got to halftime in a good position, and we can bring a quality player on with full energy. So, it happened to work out for us.
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen
On Federico Higuain changing the game when he came on at halftime
I mean he has like eyes all over his head. Some of the plays and passes he made tonight were outstanding. I see the whole field and I don’t even see that. I mean, he was a great spark to bring in, in the second half – [he] gave us energy and life, [he] was tracking back in our final third, helping Wil [Trapp] and our outside backs with their wingers.
On his stoppage-time save to deny the New York Red Bulls an equalizer
Well it was huge, if they get an away goal that’s not too good for us. At first, I thought I was going to come out for the cross. Then – in a half a second – I knew that it was too low and I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to win the ball. So, I just got back and tried to get set for the header. I got a good push and fortunate enough that I got it covered up.
On Crew SC’s change in energy when he makes a big play
It definitely makes me focus harder. It gets me into the game even more. When you’re just standing back there commanding your defenders and midfielders to get into position, it gets a little boring. When you’re called upon and you’re able to make the play and it feels good. It gets you confidence.
On moving into Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
I mean we had two days to recover… they had a week. The mood is very high right now. It can’t get too high, like you said, it is only half of the battle. So, it’s a good confidence builder, this is what we wanted out of the game. Now we have a week to prepare, get our bodies back and our minds back, get a plan to go there. They’ll be wanting to take it to us and it will be a tough game.
Midfielder Wil Trapp
On Federico Higuain coming in as a substitute at halftime
His quality is apparent. He creates the goal in a lot of ways, but I thought that first half, what we did extremely well is match the competition. If you look at the goal as a whole, you would have never thought we played 120 minutes three days ago. The effort was amazing. Matching their competition because that’s what they do so well. They battle you, they make it hard and difficult, and they put you in uncomfortable positions. I thought we did a really good job dealing with that. You bring Pipa into the game and he makes the difference.
On Crew SC’s shift in formation
The difficult thing with that was the lack of reps, whether we’ve done it once or twice on the field, or no time at all really in the past three days. The good side is that we have two very capable strikers who are able to compete, make it difficult on their center backs, make it really hard on them, and they want to press, they want to press, but when we have two outlets like Pat [Mullins] and Gyasi [Zardes], it’s really difficult for them to push as many numbers forward. I thought that was excellent. I thought, like I said, the competition and competing aspect of every single guy on the field for us.
On Crew SC’s approach to Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
The same way that we approached this game, knowing that it’s going be hard. It’s going to be really difficult and we have to get everything. It’s halfway through this series. It’s great that we won, but at the same time we can’t relax. We have to keep going, we have to get some rest obviously, but then recuperate and get ready for Sunday.
Midfielder Federico Higuain
On determining his playing time for this match
It was a difficult test for me – last Thursday after playing 120 minutes – I am not 25 years old. So I think I said no matter who plays in this game we know the guys will step up.
On Crew SC’s confidence after holding New York Red Bulls scoreless in the first half
It is not going to happen every time. I think I am happy because in the last few games we were having a clear understanding about this type of game. We are playing with hear, with high intensity and that is good, this is the playoffs. It is not about fancy football, it is about every single ball. We are doing good. I hope we kind of keep going this way.
On what he saw during the goal-scoring play
We are watching videos about [New York] Red Bulls. We know they like to press, they like to step up with center backs. We know they are very man-oriented markers. I thought maybe the centerback would be very close to me and I released the ball as I always do, I have to. It is my job, I am a number 10 – I have to do something different, if not it is not enough.
On the coaching staff being able to get the team prepared for playoff matches
Compete, compete, and compete. We work hard all season for this moment. Arriving at this moment you have to compete. Again, at this moment it is not about tactics or fancy football, it is about competing: Work hard, don’t be soft, and execution. I think we are doing good in those things.