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POST-MATCH QUOTES | Columbus Crew SC 3 -2 New York Red Bulls | Nov. 21, 2020

Head Coach Caleb Porter

Opening statement

It’s a great win. Obviously, it’s the first step. This is the new season - and we’re 1-0 in the most important season, and we need to be 4-0 - so great result. I actually think people are going to see the score line and think it was close at 3-2. Obviously, it was at the end, close, but that’s one of the most dominant 3-2 results I’ve ever been a part of. I thought it was very comprehensive [performance] on our part, [on] both sides of the ball. With the way that New York [Red Bulls] plays, they’re always one ball launched in the box, or crossed in the box, or set piece away from scoring, and I thought they were opportunistic. They scored a couple goals against the run [of play], but I thought our guys were extremely professional the entire match - and it’s a difficult match. It’s a match where you have to roll your sleeves up, you have to win duels in the air, you have to dig out second balls. You have to, at times - instead of playing out [the back] - you have to bypass the pressure and go direct, and I thought the guys executed the plan to a T. Again, I thought it was a very comprehensive performance. Even though the result would say differently, I thought we were extremely dominant today, and it’s a great first result in these playoffs. It will get us off to a good start, and I thought across the board the guys performed extremely well. We have our big guns scoring, and we have our guys at the back making plays. We’ll look at the two goals that we gave up [and] see how we can do better, but [it was a] great result, [a] great performance. [I’m] really proud of the guys.

On the team’s strong performance entering the playoffs 

We always believe that if we have time to prep, we’re going to have a good chance to execute in games. I think what you’ve seen this year - I think it’s 10 or 11 games that we’ve had six days [to prepare], and we’ve lost one out of those games. It’s a credit to my coaches, it’s a credit to the players. When we dig into the work, we dig into the preparation and our process on how we game plan and focus on our strengths - [which is] our game model. We’re a difficult team, I think, when we get that time to prepare. It’s nice to have another eight days for this next round. It’s not going to get any easier - every round is going to get harder. 

I’ll tell you what, I really liked when I walked into that locker room to see the look in the guys’ eyes. I’ve been in locker rooms a lot of years, and the teams that win championships, they’re very business-like, and that’s what they looked like after the game. It was almost like they were on to the next [game], immediately. That’s what you want to see out of your group, and I thought the guys were extremely hungry. We’re a footballing team and we want to play. We have soccer players, we have guys that are technical, guys that aren’t always the biggest, and guys that probably don’t wake up in the morning and say “I’d love to head balls and tackle.” I know New York [Red Bulls], [and] that’s what they live for, and they foam at the mouth for that. Our guys knew they were going to have to manage that side of it. I thought - I don’t have the analytics yet to look at it - but I thought we won more duels, I thought we won more first and second balls, I thought we were first in almost everything - which is what you need to be - and I think our performance was excellent today, in a game that’s tough for a footballing team. You have to battle, you have to fight. I think our guys are willing to do that and even adjust - play direct, which is what we needed to do - and that’s why we’ve been very good against New York [Red Bulls]. We have a blueprint that we follow, and part of that is bypassing their pressure, not playing into their hands, playing off second balls, and playing in the front half off the ground from there. It’s not a game in the back half that you want to overplay. I thought our guys really executed well.

On the ups and downs teams have to endure to advance in the playoffs

We talked about that before the game. I’ve been part of a lot of these knockout games. A lot, obviously, being a college coach for a long time. That’s what our tournament is, it’s a knockout [tournament]. Obviously being in Portland [and now on] my fourth playoff - I live for this.  I live for the knockouts. I live for the moments when you’re playing for something. For me, it was less about the weekly preparation. We’ve been preparing for 10 months, we’ve been trying to chisel the statue for 10 months. Everyday is an opportunity to be strong, to come together, and to put yourself in a position where now you’re the team that you are, and your habits are you. I thought today you saw a very hungry group, you saw a group that can play football on the ground when they needed to, you saw a group that could fight when they needed to and adjust tactically. I’m really proud of the group and hopefully we can keep this going. I think this group is hungry, we’re going to take it one at a time. But, you do have to manage emotions, you have to manage the match state, you have to manage the conditions. It’s something we talk about every game. It’s nothing new in the tournament, other than you have to be understanding that there are 30 minutes, perhaps, that you might need to win, and PKs even. Fortunately today, we didn’t need to go into those 30 minutes, but that’s really the only difference. Other than that, you don’t play the occasion, you play the game - it’s that simple. So, we don’t change a thing when we go in the playoffs, other than we’re aware, obviously, of those 30 minutes plus the PKs that could decide it [the game]. Other than that, it’s the same, this is our 24th game of the year.

Forward Gyasi Zardes

On the performance of Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe and Artur in the center of the field, and how that affected the rest of the offense

That trio - Darlington [Nagbe], Artur and Lucas [Zelarayan], is one of the best trios in the League. The way they control the game, the way they find each other. There’s a sense of calmness as well when you give them the ball, so as long as those guys keep combining and their chemistry keeps growing, I have full confidence that our team will keep doing well. 

On the Crew SC’s outlook and confidence level at this point in the season

First and foremost, we’re very confident because we finished off the regular season strong, and we had some time to build into this first [playoff] game. And obviously, getting a win - any team is going to be confident after a win. In this locker room, we just beat a tough opponent, and yet guys are not jumping around celebrating. Like you said, it’s all business-like, and we’re focusing on our next opponent already. We’re making sure we get everybody healthy and get ready, and just start dialing in on the next opponent because we know playoff soccer. What is it? Three more games and you can be a champion. So, there’s no time to celebrate, there’s no time to take your foot off the pedal. We have to keep going.

On Crew SC’s strong start to the second half

We knew we had to come out fast, because New York Red Bulls is a team that, usually, they want the physicality, and they want to come out fast. But, we beat them to the punch, and we made it an effort to score the next goal. You know, we were 1-1 at half time. I think we did that, and as the game went on, you could tell. After that, the game started opening up a little bit more, and we started having more opportunities.

Midfielder Darlington Nagbe

On Crew SC’s strong start to the second half and the final moments of the match

I thought we started the [second] half well, building off the first half. [In the locker room,] we talked about the good things that we did and to continue doing what we were doing. I thought we came out and started the second half exactly the way we wanted to - put pressure on them, got the ball in their half, and play from there. Then, towards the end of the game, it got a little scary, a little sloppy. At that point in the game, we just need to be smart, take the ball to the corner, play long, and not take too many risks in our box. But we’re happy with the 3-2 win. I feel like we deserve a little bit more, [we] created a lot of chances, but we win and we move on. 

On Crew SC’s fluidity heading into the playoffs and how that compares to the team at the beginning of the MLS is Back Tournament 

I think myself coming back, Lucas [Zelarayan] coming back - and getting some games together - Eloy [Room] back as well, and then the guys that have been in there doing a good job as well while we’ve been out - I think it’s all starting to come together. We had about a week after the Atlanta [United] game to train and get playing together again, and then now, to get another game in together. Then having eight, seven days until we play again. So, more training, more time to get used to each other - or familiarize ourselves with each other again - and [I’m] looking forward to our next game.

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