Columbus Crew SC defender Jonathan Mensah (4) is ecstatic and relieved his team defeated the Red Bulls. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Well, where have we seen this scenario with the Red Bulls before?
They wound up on the short end of a 1-0 result to Columbus Crew SC after the opening leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals at MAPFRE Sunday.
Gyasi Zardes, thanks to a feed a pin-point feed by second-half substitute Federico Higuain, tallied the deciding score to give Columbus a one-goal advnatage in the aggregate-goals series.
The second leg will be played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. next Sunday, time of the game TBD.
Columbus snapped the Red Bulls’ five-game winning streak.
“They’re a good team,” Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us. We know they’re a good team, they’re a strong team. Our message to the group was, ‘We’re halfway through a 180-minute game, potentially more with extra time.’ We’re happy, but we’re not done. That’s the important message. I guarantee you in New York, it’s going to be a difficult game as it was tonight.”
The Red Bulls, who have never tasted ultimate victory in the MLS Cups Playoff as one of the founding members of the league in 1996, are in a must-win situation with stipulations. Any shutout win above 1-0 will boost New York into the conference final against the winner of the New York City FC-Atlanta United series. A 1-0 victory would mean a shootout to determine the winner.
U.S. international goalkeeper Zach Steffen wasn’t severely tested, but made a key save on striker Bradley Wright-Phillips near the end of the match to keep the visitors scoreless and frustrated.
“Well it was huge,” Steffen said. “If they get an away goal that’s not too good for us. At first, I thought I was going to come out for the cross. Then – in a half a second – I knew that it was too low and I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to win the ball. So, I just got back and tried to get set for the header. I got a good push and fortunate enough that I got it covered up.”
Following a long ball by Milton Valenzuela, Higuain flicked his pass to Zardes, who finished to the near post for the eventual game winner in the 61st minute.
“I mean he has like eyes all over his head,” Steffen said. “Some of the plays and passes he made tonight were outstanding. I see the whole field and I don’t even see that. I mean, he was a great spark to bring in, in the second half – [he] gave us energy and life, [he] was tracking back in our final third, helping Wil [Trapp] and our outside backs with their wingers.