Columbus Crew SC took a big step towards appearing in their second MLS Cup final tonight with a 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls. Coincidentally it was the Red Bulls that they defeated back in 2008 for their only MLS Cup triumph. New York will find it tough to overturn this deficit next week with Columbus showing how dangerous they can be on the counter tonight.
The first half resembled a Rocky movie with both teams attacking with every opportunity and combining for a total of 16 shots and 16 corners in the half. But it was Columbus that dealt the first blow with a sucker punch immediately from the kickoff.
The ball was played back to Will Trapp, who hit a long ball forward to Kei Kamara, who then flicked it on to Ethan Finlay. Finlay’s looping header bounced invitingly for Justin Meram to sweep home from near the penalty spot after only nine seconds, becoming the fastest goal in MLS playoff history.
The Reb Bulls responded positively from going behind so quickly and Sacha Kljestan nearly had them level but for an outstretched boot from Steve Clark. They came closer still on 15 minutes after a dangerous left field cross from Kemar Lawrence was deflected at the near post by Michael Parkhurst, but the ball bounced inches over the crossbar.
Crew SC were intent in getting the ball forward quickly and using the pace of Finlay to create chances, which was having an affect, but unfortunately Finlay was struggling to find that bit of quality. The best chance was from a 2 against 1 breakaway, but Finlay got caught in two minds and instead of freeing Federico Higuain, allowed Lawrence to make a last ditch tackle.
The first half was not the highest quality of football either team has played this season with only around 70% pass accuracy from both sets of players.
New York upped their game in the second half and were dominating possession and slowly building pressure, but they were unable to create clear opportunities to test Steve Clark.
Their best chances predictably came through their leading goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips. First setting up Kljestan on 60 minutes with a near post cross and his first time shot had the beating of Clark and also the near post. Then on 77 minutes Phillips produced a bit of magic to bring under control a lofted cross from over his right shoulder, but his volley sailed just over the bar.
Crew SC might have been struggling to get some decent possession in the half, but they were always dangerous on the break and it was substitute Cedrick Mabwati who provided the inspiration for the second. On the 85th minute he received the ball on the right of the box and with a bit of magic weaved round three New York defenders and let rip with a powerful shot that Luis Robles could only parry across goal. With the ball lose and the Red Bull defenders watching it was inevitable that Kei Kamara was going to react first to slot the ball into an empty net.