Motivation: Crew SC re-purposes mission, playing (and winning) for its fans

Columbus Crew SC entered the MLS playoffs with enough going for it -- a league-high 10-game unbeaten streak -- that it didn't need any extra motivation.

Even after the shootout win at Atlanta United before 67,221 fans, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said his players weren't going to use owner Anthony Precourt’s flirtation with Austin as motivation, nor did he want it to be a distraction.

But on Halloween Night, it was clear the Crew was on a mission to win for its fans, demolishing New York City FC, 4-1, in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“We re-purposed our mission," Berhalter said, "and it’s solely to play for the fans and give them as many home games as we can and let them enjoy something. And tonight, for them, I can imagine was an enjoyable night.”

1. Afful goal tops off evening to remember for Crew fans.

The Crew jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Ola Kamara in the sixth minute, led 3-0 after 69 minutes, then allowed NYCFC back in the series on David Villa's goal in the 78th minute.

But Ghanaian defender Harrison Afful topped off an evening every one of the 14,416 fans will remember for a long time when he scored wonder goal in stoppage time, dribbling past five NYCFC players before putting away his chance.

2. NYCFC pays price for Callens' red card.

Columbus had less than 38 percent of possession and allowed 19 shots but got a break early in the second half when Alexander Callens elbowed Justin Meram in the head.

Referee Ismail Elfath, a halftime replacement for ailing Alan Kelly, didn't see the elbow but on Video Review sent off NYCFC's Peruvian defender. Goals by Artur and Meram followed and it was soon 3-0.

"I think they really put us under pressure straight away after the red card and they managed to score these two goals and we didn’t keep our calm," said NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira. "But I think when you have one man down, the team, the players have to do a little bit more and we didn’t do it. So when you go one man down and people don’t do extra, you will suffer. And we did."

3. NYCFC bombs again in the playoffs.

NYCFC lost to Toronto FC, 2-0, in the first game of the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals and it got worse after that. A 5-0 loss in the second leg ended its second MLS season with an 7-0 aggregate defeat.

That experience and an upgraded roster should have been enough to get a better result in the first leg of the 2017 conference semifinals, but NYCFC bombed again, leaving its playoff record at three games and three losses by a margin of 11-1.

Sean Johnson had a nightmare in goal, Callens, the only field player in MLS who played every minute of every game in 2017, got himself sent off for a foolish elbow, and the NYCFC defense allowed the killer fourth goal from Afful in the third minute of stoppage time.

"I think this is a collective game," Vieira said, "and I don’t want to blame the goalkeeper or our back four because I think we created enough chances to stay in the game. I’m more frustrated and upset about our front players than I can be about our back four."

Oct. 31 in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus 4 New York City FC 1.
CLB: Ola Kamara 6
CLB: Artur (Federico Higuain) 58
CLB: Justin Meram (Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain) 69
NYC: David Villa 78
CLB: Harrison Afful (Justin Meram) 90+3
Columbus -- Steffen; Afful, Mensah, Williams, Jimenez; Trapp, Artur (Abu 90+1); Santos (Manneh 75), Higuain (Abubakar 88), Meram; Kamara.
New York City FC -- Johnson; White (Struna 74), Brillant, Callens, Sweat; Herrera, Ring, Moralez; Harrison (Okoli 79), Villa, Wallace (Matarrita 56).
Red Card: New York City FC -- Callens 52.
Att.: 14,416.

2 comments about "Motivation: Crew SC re-purposes mission, playing (and winning) for its fans".
  1. beautiful game, November 1, 2017 at 10:29 a.m.

    Terrible tactical approach by NYFC which played like a mediocre squad that they are...only one player on this squad that's worth his mettle and he's 35 yoa. The game commentary was as awful as it gets, winded nonsense.

  2. :: SilverRey ::, November 1, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    Berhalter - "We're not going to go out and play conservative soccer - it's not in our DNA"

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