Browns WR Jarvis Landry placed on injured reserve

Takeaways: Miguel Berry, Alex Matan spark comeback, Columbus Crew finds a way to keep playoff hopes alive

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch

Miguel Berry scored a game-winning (and game-tying) goal in the last game at Lower.com Field, which immediately became an instant classic of a chapter of the Hell is Real rivalry against FC Cincinnati — the first at the new downtown stadium. 

He supplanted those heroics with another indelible moment in the 87th minute of the Crew’s 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls (6-11-5, 23 points) on Tuesday night in front of an announced crowd of 17,358. 

By every definition, the Crew (8-11-6, 30 points) needed a win. Not just because it had lost eight of its last nine, but mostly because of what lies ahead. After a road game against Supporters’ Shield-leading New England Revolution on Saturday, the Crew have five home games to gain enough ground to be one of seven teams from the East in the playoffs. 

A draw would’ve been OK but not good enough. A loss could’ve been catastrophic, given the Crew has played two more games at this point than every team they’re battling for a playoff spot. It looked like that’s what would happen. 

The first half was dismal. The first 15 minutes of the second half didn’t offer much hope either. Then a few substitutions made a major impact and kept the season from careening further toward collapse. 

"We needed that one,” coach Caleb Porter said. “It took a great second half and it took every single one of the subs to pull this game out. I couldn't be more proud of our fight, resiliency in that second half. I think everybody saw, including our team, what it looks like when you give everything you have and you play with hunger and you refuse to lose.” 

The Crew remains one point out of a playoff spot — two points out of fifth place — with two more games played than Inter Miami, Philadelphia Union, CF Montreal, D.C. United and Atlanta United. The Red Bulls might have been the worst team remaining on the schedule. 

It shouldn’t have required the most dramatic route possible to secure a win. But the task in the first of six home games remaining was still accomplished. 

"I think we showed we cared, we wanted desperately to win,” Berry said. “We went 1-1 and we were not going to stop until we scored a second.” 

Here are some takeaways from the match. 

Miguel Berry continuing to take advantage of opportunity 

Just over two months ago, the Crew traded for forward Erik Hurtado for extra depth because Gyasi Zardes was on international duty and Bradley Wright-Phillips was injured. Berry cashed in on his chance at FC Cincinnati on July 9 and hasn’t looked back. 

In 330 minutes, Berry has scored five goals — mostly coming off the bench in big spots. In the 87th minute of a tie game, Berry ran down the right side after right back Harrison Afful played a pass into space. Berry saw attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan on the other side of the field near the top of the box and made the proper pass. The rest was instinct. 

“As soon as Lucas gets it, I know he's shooting,” Berry said. “t came to me and I think I took a good first touch ... and just put it in the goal. From there, I can't remember what happened.” 

Teammates mob Columbus Crew forward Miguel Berry (27) after he scored the game-winning goal during the second half of the MLS soccer game against the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The Crew won 2-1.

What happened was teammates piling on top of him after one of the most important goal of the season. Once the Crew finished off the game, the Nordecke chanted his name as Afful pushed Berry over to the supporters’ section. 

Berry was benched five games in a row and has scored four goals in the five games since. He is getting more playing time than Wright-Phillips, and for good reason. Berry has deserved it. 

“He has quality ... he is very good in the box. Very good in the box,” Porter said. “He's very calm. He's got technique. When we do a finishing drill, he's one of our best finishers. But on top of that, his mentality in terms of learning, coming to work every day as a pro and trying to improve, having the right attitude, listen to the coaches, listen to the senior players. A lot of young guys don't do that."

Porter said last season he thought Berry always assumed he wouldn’t be playing instead of fighting for a job. This season, Berry has made it impossible to keep him off the field.

"He has the right attitude and he's a true pro, a good guy and a team guy, and he wants to learn,” Porter said. “When you want to learn and you work hard and you come to training like it's a job, then you get better. Let's not forget, he's got quality. A lot of good pros out there that don't have quality, and a lot of guys that have quality that aren't good pros. He has both." 

Alex Matan great off the bench 

Columbus Crew midfielder Alexandru Matan (20) fights for the ball with New York Red Bulls defender Sean Nealis (15) during the second half of the MLS soccer game at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The Crew won 2-1.

While he’s still looking for his first goal or assist, winger Alex Matan also provided that spark off the bench when he dribbled for 35 yards in the 74th minute to create the Crew’s best chance of the night at the time. The rebound off goalkeeper Carlos Coronel was finished by a header from midfielder Darlington Nagbe. 

“Miggy's been huge for us getting those goals off the bench, and Matan coming in and creating like he always does. He's a handful,” Nagbe said. “Hopefully those guys keep building on what they're doing.” 

Matan looked lively, again, off the bench. He has made just eight starts in 23 appearances, but has carved out a role as a gritty offensive player who is comfortable dribbling around defenders and trying to get into the box.

Porter said Matan, and Berry, have shown quality in the attack when coming into the game when the Crew is trailing. The next stage is performing well consistently with starts. 

"I think the key with (Matan), and I actually told him after the game, is he needs to learn to do that for 90 minutes,” Porter said. “These are players who are performing pretty well off the bench, but the next jump is can you perform like that in a 90-minute game over the course of the game both sides of the ball. That's a lot harder.” 

Columbus Crew head coach Caleb Porter celebrates with forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) following their 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in the MLS soccer game at Lower.com Field in Columbus on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Depth at left back suddenly a worry 

Starting left back Milton Valenzuela was held out of the match because of hamstring tightness, which is slightly concerning since he played just 45 minutes against Inter Miami on the weekend. Then, from Monday’s testing, left back Waylon Francis went into MLS health and safety protocol and had to miss the match. 

Winger Pedro Santos was forced to play left back out of necessity, and he was injured in the first minute on a head-to-head collision with Red Bulls defender Kyle Duncan. Saad Abdul-Salaam entered the match for Santos in the sixth minute and had a so-so match. 

If Santos has a concussion, it’s unlikely he’ll be cleared in time for Saturday’s game at New England. The severity of Valenzuela’s hamstring and the timetable for Francis’ return likely won’t be known until Friday’s media session. 

jmyers@dispatch.com

@_jcmyers

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