Following Saturday’s 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls, Head Coach Caleb Porter said his team’s performance was not only a showcase in preparation but also a sense of pragmatism as Columbus went on to score two-plus goals in a second-straight win over New York.
With nearly two weeks to prepare, Porter said his Crew side followed the game plan to a tee.
“We’re a footballing team and we want to play … 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,’” Porter said. “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.”
This being the MLS Cup Playoffs in a knockout-format, something notable Porter reiterated: "You don’t play the occasion, you play the game - it’s that simple."
That mantra showed in the box score, as Columbus played more direct, totaling their fourth-fewest passes this season with 366 and the fewest successful passes with 250, while still putting in a commanding performance, particularly in the second half.
Though, as expected, Saturday was a test from the start as the Red Bulls, in typical fashion, capitalized on a miscue in the Crew's box and converted on one of their four shots on target.
Down 1-0, Columbus responded within three minutes, taking three passes from beyond midfield to find an open Pedro Santos, who suffered a foul in the box to quickly equalize.
HIGHLIGHTS | Columbus Crew 3, Red Bulls 2
In fact, the same pressure led to the Crew’s second goal, as Darlington Nagbe eventually beat out two Red Bulls defenders on essentially a 50-50 opportunity in the box to give Columbus a 2-1 lead and re-establish the tone early in the second half.
Before taking a look at the analytics post-match, Porter said that “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.”
Columbus indeed won the duel battle, 60-51, while conceding a majority of the possession percentage on the day, 53-47.
Despite the early deficit, Porter saw a Crew side score three unanswered goals, the team's first such occasion this season after going down a goal. In fact, during the regular season, Columbus only totaled three points gained from a losing position, the fourth-fewest in MLS.
Of course, a large reason for that was the consistent success in scoring first, but even with RBNY's early strike, Columbus didn't falter given the occasion, and Porter went on to explain that he revels in these win-or-go-home scenarios, saying “I live for the knockouts. I live for the moments when you’re playing for something.”
The Crew is 1-0, as Porter put it, with three games remaining as the Club gets set to face the winner between Nashville SC and Toronto FC, as they get set to face off on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
In the meantime, Columbus will take Saturday as another learning opportunity.
“Every day 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,” Porter said, as Columbus improved to 10-1-0 at MAPFRE Stadium.
“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.”