Momentum, motivation on side of Crew vs. NYCFC (Oct 31, 2017)
Columbus Crew SC will be riding the emotion of a dramatic knockout round victory against Atlanta United and the passion of their fans when they play New York City FC on Tuesday in the first leg of Eastern Conference semifinals.
Few expected the fifth-seed Crew to go down to Georgia and beat fourth-seeded Atlanta, especially in front of an MLS-playoff record crowd of more than 67,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
But eight saves by rookie goalkeeper Zack Steffen through 120 scoreless minutes and two more stops in the penalty-kick phase enabled reserve forward Adam Jahn to clinch the upset.
"It gives us motivation. We're the underdogs," Steffen said.
As a reward, the Crew are opening the two-leg, aggregate goal series vs. No. 2 seed New York City at Mapfre Stadium. The second leg is Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC had a bye into the semifinals.
The winner will advance to play the Toronto FC-New York Red Bulls winner for the right to host the MLS Cup on Dec. 9.
As a backdrop, the Crew plays their first home match since owner Anthony Precourt announced Oct. 17 that he would move the franchise to Austin, Texas, for the 2019 season if he does not get a new stadium.
Crew followers have been vocal in their opposition to Precourt and have launched a #SaveTheCrew campaign.
That's of secondary concern at the moment for the players, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said.
"As a group, we just need to move forward and focus on how we can beat a good New York City team," he said.
Columbus is 7-0-4 in it past 11 matches and has won six of the past seven at home while outscoring the opposition 14-5.
The last time NYC and the Crew played was the final day of the regular season at Citi Field (Yankee Stadium was unavailable).
NYCFC's David Villa scored his 21st and 22nd goals but Steffen made a penalty kick save on him in the final minute of stoppage time to preserve the 2-2 draw. NYCFC won 3-2 in Columbus on April 29.
"It's win or go home, and I think one thing that our team is really good at is that we score goals," NYCFC rookie forward Jonathan Lewis said. "We have very good goal scorers, so I think that is going to play a very important part in the playoffs."