Belief and balance.
Those two notions have been the foundation for Columbus's run to MLS Cup, as Head Coach Caleb Porter was adamant in his position that there is no better team on both sides of the ball, and Sunday's shutout win over a road-proven New England team was yet another example.
It was the seventh home shutout for Columbus in 2020, as the Black & Gold came out dominant with 54-percent of the possession in the opening 45 minutes to go with five shots on goal while not conceding a single shot on-frame to the Revolution.
Scoreless at halftime, Porter saw a team come out of the locker room and take command in the second half.
"I thought we, again, took the game over [in the] second half. We dominated, we did our thing, got on the ball, pressed, possessed, and sealed-off every counter [attack]," said Porter in his post-match press conference.
Looking back, it could have easily been more than a one-goal game for Columbus.
Porter admitted the Rev's goalkeeper, Matt Turner, was likely the player of the match, but with balance and belief, it didn't matter whether it was a one-goal win or a three-goal win, or whether it happened in regulation or extra-time.
"Late [in the match], we had to make a few plays in the box, which you are always going to do, but these guys have become winners," Porter said. "They’ve become winners and I told them that in the locker room. They have evolved from good players into winners."
In the end, Artur's third goal of the season marked the difference, score-wise, but on a less apparent level, it was the Crew's effort with and without the ball that solidified Columbus's spot in the 2020 MLS Cup.
Whether it's Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan's continued commitment on the defensive end, Artur cementing his transformation into a tenacious midfielder (1 goal, 3 interceptions, 2 interceptions, 1 block), or the centerbacks Josh Williams and Jonathan Mensah coming up big (literally) with 11 combined clearances, the list of intangibles seemingly goes on.
INTERVIEW | Caleb Porter following 1-0 win over New England
Ultimately, the balance between the Crew's ability to play creative, attacking soccer and the team's hallmark defensive capability is what has gotten Columbus to a 12-1-0 home record, with one final home match to go.
Key to that balance, Porter said, has been instilling that championship-caliber belief in his locker room, and at the final whistle on Sunday, it was evident which team believed in itself more.
Of course, instilling that notion didn't start with the onset of the playoffs, but rather back on January 22 at the start of preseason.
Fifteen wins later, including 11 total shutouts, this Crew team not only has a chance to cap an already-eventful 2020 season right where they started – with a win at MAPFRE Stadium – but also a chance to cement a legacy as the dawn of a new era for the Club and city approaches in 2021.
"I know the guys in that locker room are really happy to put the Eastern Conference championship trophy in the trophy case - that’s what it is about," said Porter, "but there’s a much bigger trophy, the MLS Cup trophy, that we have our eye on. We expected to be here in this position, we believed we could be here, and now we have the opportunity to play a home game to become MLS Cup champions."