A striking three-pronged combination between Milton Valenzuela, Federico Higuaín, and Gyasi Zardes marked the difference in Columbus Crew SC's 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Nov. 4 at MAPFRE Stadium as part of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
A zero-zero stalemate after the opening 45 minutes morphed into a beautiful display of creativity for the final half following the 46th-minute substitution of Higuaín.
Crew SC, which recorded two shots on frame in the second half, broke through in the 61st minute on behalf of some tactical and technical magic from two of Columbus Argentinians.
As Justin Meram sprinted for a run along the sideline, Valenzuela read the opening space and delivered a perfectly weighted ball for Higuaín, who then with a no-look flick found Zardes in front of goal for the tuck.
The tally marked the Zardes' 20th of the season and third of his postseason career, while Higuaín's assist now puts him in a tie for third all-time in Crew SC postseason history (5).
On the other end, goalkeeper Zack Steffen came through in the dying seconds of second-half stoppage time with the win-preserving save on Bradley Wright-Phillips.
On the day, New York outshot Crew SC 9-6, including 3-2 in shots on target. All three of Columbus' corners came in the second half, compared to four-and-four for the Red Bull's total of eight.
- Gyasi Zardes scored the game-winning goal in today’s Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 match against the New York Red Bulls. The goal came in the 61st minute as the forward received a back-heel pass from Federico Higuain and sent the ball past Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. The score is Zardes’ first MLS postseason goal since October 28, 2015 when he scored for the LA Galaxy against the Seattle Sounders in a Western Conference Knockout Round match. In addition, Gyasi Zardes made his 10th MLS postseason appearance (and start) in today’s match. This year, the forward also started in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round match against D.C. United. In his previous eight postseason appearances (all for the LA Galaxy) Zardes recorded two goals and one assist from 2013-2015. In the 2018 MLS regular season, he made 33 appearances (all starts) and scored 19 goals for Crew SC to lead all Americans in the League.
- With today’s start, Luis Argudo made is first MLS postseason appearance in today’s Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 match against the New York Red Bulls. Today, Argudo made 20 touches and attempted 10 passes at an 80 percent success rate. In the 2018 MLS regular season, the midfielder made 18 appearances and six starts.
- Midfielder Federico Higuain provided a game-winning assist in today’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 match against the New York Red Bulls. The helper came on Gyasi Zardes’ 61st-minute goal when the Argentine midfielder received a pass from Milton Valenzuela and relayed a back-heel pass to the forward. In the 2018 MLS regular season, Higuain scored six goals and provided a team-high nine assists in 30 regular-season appearances (27 starts). The assist was Higuain’s fifth career postseason helper, which ties him for the third-most assists for a Crew SC player in MLS Cup Playoffs action with Jeff Cunningham, Ansil Elcock and Robert Warzycha. Now, he only trails Guillermo Barros Schelotto (7) and Andy Williams (6) on the all-time list of Crew SC postseason assists. In his career, Higuain has made 13 MLS postseason appearances (all starts) and scored four goals to go with his five assists.
- Milton Valenzuela recorded a game-winning assist in tonight’s Audi MLS Cup playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 match against the New York Red Bulls. The assist came in the 61st-minute when the Argentine passed to Federico Higuain, who relayed the ball to Gyasi Zardes for the goal. The helper was Valenzuela’s first MLS postseason assist in two appearances (both starts for Crew SC this postseason). In the 2018 MLS regular season, Afful made 32 appearances (all starts), tallying two goals and six assists.
- Zack Steffen recorded a clean sheet in today’s Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1 match against the New York Red Bulls. The shutout was his third in his MLS postseason career, as he previously recorded clean sheets in playoff matches against Atlanta United FC and Toronto FC in 2017. Today, the Crew SC goalkeeper made four saves, including a diving stop in the third minute of second half stoppage time to preserve a 1-0 Crew SC victory.
- Next up, Crew SC will take on the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena in Leg 2 of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, November 11.