Confident Crew crashes the playoffs with perfect recipe
After a season such as this, is it any wonder the Crew is wrecking fools in the playoffs?
Actually, yes, apparently.
Heading into the 2018 MLS Playoffs as the Eastern Conference's second-lowest seed will do that, of course. But after Sunday's masterful 1-0 victory over the Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, I'm convinced.
This year, this team, feels different. All the ingredients are there.
Let's talk about them.
1. Fearless facing adversity
It doesn't matter if it's against the hottest team in the league, D.C. United., and its darling new foreign import, Wayne Rooney. It doesn't matter if it's the Eastern Conference's top seed and, as the league's best regular season team, the Supporters' Shield winner, the New York Red Bulls. The Crew calmly says, “Thank you, next.”
2. Mentally tough
In a column by the Dispatch's Andrew Erickson, Berhalter admits the team has heard the noise surrounding it throughout the season. Not only did relocation potentially linger, but Berhalter himself was also said to be leaving, with many tabbing him to be the next U.S. Men's National Team coach. Then there was Meram leaving and returning to the Crew.
However, through it all, the team remained focused.
“We never made excuses,” Berhalter said. “We kept working hard and we kept our heads in it.”
3. Young, hungry & experienced
As one of the youngest teams in the league, the Crew is also, somehow, one of its most experienced — at least when it comes to the MLS Playoffs. And Crew maestro and talisman Federico Higuain appears hungry enough for everyone.
“It's very normal in football for people to say, ‘You can't be scared.' Scared is amazing. I love scared. It turns you on,” Higuain hilariously told Erickson. “If not, don't go. Stay at home.”
4. A sublime coach
Unbelievably, Berhalter once again out-maneuvered an opposing coach in a playoff game. It was, Berhalter admitted afterward, a gamble to sit Higuain for the first half against the Red Bulls, and the Crew is not normally that kind of team. And yet, it worked.
5. That je ne sais quoi
I can't wait to watch the Crew go to work again Sunday, Nov. 11, in the second leg against the Red Bulls. Who knows what's going to happen? In a season such as this, it could be argued that's the best gift of all. Another game for another day, regardless of outcome.
But something beyond all these ingredients, something much less tangible, tells me the Crew wants more. And they want it for us, the fans. I could see it from the Nordecke Sunday after the final whistle blew. Berhalter was the first to approach, his fist pumping while he walked toward us. He paused, and then lingered for another moment. The players soon followed, more than a few seemingly overcome with emotion. I could be crazy, but I felt something like an exchange of energy.
I could swear the Nordecke felt it, too. Because just then Meram thumped the club crest on his chest, and the crowd spontaneously erupted into chants of “We're not done yet! We're not done yet!”