For the first time since their 2020 MLS Cup winning season, the Columbus Crew have clinched a spot in the MLS Playoffs.
Since their last appearance, the team has undergone a complete makeover. First-year head coach Wilfred Nancy has completely changed the complete team narrative, giving the team a chance to win their third MLS Cup.
Since Nancy’s arrival, the team has been outstanding on their home turf, Lower.com Field. They have only lost one game at home all season.
However, the season has not been perfect. The team has struggled away from home and has conceded countless last-minute goals to drop points.
On Sept.16, 2023, the Crew faced Orlando City SC, a team they drew with in May.
This time, the Crew held a commanding 3-1 going into the 73rd minute before going on to lose the game 4-3.
Closing out games has been a huge talking point for the Crew for the past few seasons and was one of the reasons former coach Caleb Porter was fired.
If the Crew intend to make a run for the MLS Cup, they will need to be stronger on the defensive side. It does not help that defender Will Sands tore his ACL back in a late-April match, leaving the team short at the fullback position.
The Crew never gave up, acquiring fullback Julian Gressel from Vancouver in the summer transfer window. Gressel is considered one of the league’s best in passing and creating chances for goals.
The summer transfer window was an important one for Columbus, sending the aging star Lucas Zelarayán to Saudi Arabia and acquiring former LAFC star Diego Rossi in replacement.
The season has been quite successful, despite obvious shortages of defensive acumen. Second-year Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez has shined in his role, leading the team in both goals and assists, which is unusual for a position meant for pure goal-scoring.
The newly-formed foursome of attackers that include Hernandez and Rossi along with Alex Matan and Christian Ramirez has been a dream come true for Columbus—The Crew lead the league in goals (60), Goals inside the 18-yard box (51), assists (66), and expected goals (49.55). They rank third in the league in goals outside of the box (9).
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, the university’s Activity Management and Programming (AMP) took students to Lower.com Field to watch the Crew take on the Chicago Fire, a team they beat in June due to a stunning highlight 93 minute goal from Lucas Zelarayan who struck the ball from halfway up the field.
Several university students that went to the game were able to comment.
Emily Bartholomew, a sophomore student and AMP coordinator, had the chance to sit down and discuss the process for getting events like these set up.
Bartholomew explained that AMP got the tickets through the Crew executive office. After they obtain the tickets, they sell them to the students at a “very discounted rate. That way we can allow students to go to the game when it is usually expensive to go.”
Another attendee was Tyson George, a first-year student and avid Crew fan. This was not George’s first Crew game. George decided to go to the game because he “hadn’t gone in a long time, and [he’s] a big soccer fan.” In addition to being a Crew fan, he is a Manchester City supporter.
Riding off the coattails of a Cucho Hernandez hat-trick, the Crew struck early and never looked back. Hernandez took two penalties and netted them both before a nice header taken from a Julian Gressel corner kick. The outcome resulted in the second fastest hat-trick from the start of the game in MLS history, netting the trio in 22 minutes and 51 seconds.
The hat-trick came just two weeks after Hernandez’s stunning hat-trick against Montreal, his first since he was 16-years-old. Hernandez is the second Crew player to net two hat-tricks in the same season.
TheChimes wants to thank AMP coordinators Mary Kate Gebhart, Emily Bartholomew and Sophia Wilson for their hard work putting this event together.