The biggest question coming into Columbus’ home Decision Day match against D.C. United was who would provide the attacking impetus for Crew SC with Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara both out due to yellow card accumulation.
Columbus got its answer – and clinched the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference — when Ethan Finlay scored a brace within two minutes to help Crew SC to a 5-0 victory over United.
"It was great," Finlay said. "At that point we all knew that we had it sewn up. It felt great. But this is just the end of the regular season. We’ve got a lot more to go."
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The victory also sees Columbus receive a direct place in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
With both of Crew SC’s frequent attacking threats out, Finlay and some of Crew SC’s supporting players were asked to lead the offense. They didn’t disappoint.
"What I loved going into tonight was the continuity between some of the new guys up front," Finlay said. "We had a lot of fluid movement tonight. And then Jack was tremendous, Aaron (Schoenfeld) gave us some quality minutes. We continued to create great chances, we continued to combine. … It’s that kind of thing, individually, I love to see.
"You can’t replace guys like (Higuain) and Kei," Finlay continued. "But what is awesome is that we can still get the job done without them."
Columbus dominated possession in United’s half for much of the game, and forced Bill Hamid into action almost from the opening kick.
But Hamid was left in no-man’s land on both of Finlay’s goals, with McInerney playing him in in the 66th minute and allowing him to walk it into the back of the net before Finlay returned a minute later, cutting inside and out before thrashing one past Hamid.
Finlay’s goals put the game on ice and allowed Crew SC to cruise into the bye with a huge vote of confidence.
"When you look at the fact that we were missing Federico and Kei, the guys who stepped in did a fantastic job," Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Despite Finlay’s great play, it was McInerney who impressed in the early stages. Crew SC enjoyed a lot of success down the right flank early on but it would be from central midfield where they would strike first.
McInerney opened the scoring in the 25th minute after latching onto a slicing through ball by Saeid and blasting the opening goal of the match past Bill Hamid.
That came two minutes after Hamid’s best moment of the game, when Mohammed Saeid fizzed in a cross to McInerney, who duly headed it down, only to see Hamid pull off a spectacular kick-save to keep things level.
D.C. United threatened to score after McInerney’s goal, but the visitors rarely looked like they could break down the Columbus defense. After a shaky start, Columbus’ Steve Clark was outstanding when called upon, but became a bystander by the 54th minute, when Justin Meram scored the game’s second goal and sent Mapfre into hysterics.
By the time Aaron Schoenfeld scored the game’s fifth goal in the 80th minute, the crowd had been serenading Crew SC with Olés for almost 10 minutes.
"(This was) maybe some of the best atmosphere since I’ve been here," Finlay said of the home support. "Hopefully if they weren’t here, people are upset that they weren’t here and they’ll be at the next one because tonight was special."
The result sees D.C. United continue its poor form in MAPFRE Stadium, as they haven’t won in Columbus since 2007.
Now Columbus awaits who it will meet in the Eastern semifinal at the weekend.