The Columbus Crew made significant strides in their quest to reach the MLS Playoffs with a 2-0 home win against the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night.
Sitting in eighth place and reeling from two consecutive losses, the Crew used the victory to gain ground on fellow playoff hopeful Houston in the Eastern Conference standings.
Forward Ryan Finley and midfielder Justin Meram scored in the 47thand 74th minutes, respectively, and each provided the assist to the other’s goal. Meram found the back of the net for the first time this season, and Finley’s goal was the first of his professional career.
“It feels good to get the first one and get that pressure off your shoulders,” Finley said.
The coaching staff, players and the front office all welcomed Wednesday’s uplifting result, as the performance came on the heels of a Labor Day firing of Crew coach Robert Warzycha. Technical director Brian Bliss assumed the duties of interim head coach Monday, and had only two practice sessions to ready his team.
Houston came into the game poised to leapfrog the New England Revolution for the coveted fifth and final playoff berth with a draw. They instead came away with nothing to show for their road trip, thanks to the Crew making timely defensive plays to keep a clean sheet.
“We caught a break by not taking a goal in the first ten minutes,” Bliss said after the match. “I’ve said it to these guys from day one. It’s a phrase of mine, and they’re going to hear it again: ‘It’s a running man’s game.’ And these guys ran tonight. That’s why they won the game. [To score] so early in the second half, I think, was a body blow to Houston.”
Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall denied Finley a second goal on a penalty kick minutes after his first.
“That penalty kick was a huge momentum swinger. We miss that, they get life, we go down, and now we’re under pressure for about five or six minutes until we (settled) ourselves,” Bliss said. “It’s all due to the mental [aspect] and it’s a big part of the game,” Bliss said.
Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers spoke about the dynamic of the team having to deal with the repercussions of a contextually emotional coaching change.
“I’m proud of these guys. It was a tough week for the organization. They responded and they worked their tails off out there tonight,” McCullers said.
To add to an already chaotic week, the match was the second of three in an eight-day span after the final whistle blows at this Saturday’s game against Sporting KC in Kansas City, Mo.
For the playoffs to remain a viable possibility for the Crew, they must keep winning and hope for losses and ties to beleaguer Houston for the remainder of their schedule. Beating the Chicago Fire at home Sept. 21, as well as the Revolution in their final two matches of the season, is imperative for the Crew to have a shot at surpassing these teams to make the playoff cut.
“Obviously, Houston’s in front of us, and we just took three points off them. So if we can build on this, I think we can make some noise in the Eastern Conference,” said Finley.