The Columbus Crew couldn’t have asked for a better start to their two-legged meeting with 2-seed NYCFC in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Until the moment it went sour. Until the moment it was set straight.
Ola Kamara opened the scoring in the 6th minute, and then a 52nd-minute red card to Alexander Callens saw the home side take a commanding 3-0 lead behind goals from Artur and Justin Meram.
With Columbus close to bringing that near-perfect result with them on the road to Yankee Stadium, David Villa capitalized on a mistake from Jonathan Mensah to grab a vital 78th minute NYCFC away goal. But a stunning stoppage-time strike by Harrison Afful restored the three-goal lead and gave the Crew a fine feeling heading into the second leg.
Just six minutes into the match, Sean Johnson acrobatically saved a low shot by Federico Higuain, but the rebound fell right to Kamara at the doorstep who slid to meet the ball and open the scoring. It was a dream start for the Crew, who played in front of a surprisingly thin Mapfre stadium.
David Villa had a chance to level things up for the visitors, but his 2-on-1 effort past the half-hour mark struck the right post
The Crew held a slim halftime lead, but the game would change after the break. In the 47th minute, NYCFC hoped to attack with a corner up front. Defender Alex Callens came up for the scrum, and looking to make space, he lifted an elbow to the face of Justin Meram, which was caught on VAR and a red card was produced.
The sending off completely altered the dynamic of the match. The Crew picked up two more strikes, as 21-year-old Brazilian Artur wrong-footed NYCFC defender Frederic Brilliant for the second after breaking 4-on-2, followed by Meram who put one past goalkeeper Johnson, who will be disappointed not to save the ball shot straight at him.
With the Crew cruising, a big mistake cost them. NYCFC looked to bypass the midfield and pump long balls forward, and it worked. With 12 minutes to go, Jonathan Mensah slipped trying to clear, and Villa was there to turn and fire a critical away goal.
The game exploded open after the Villa goal, with both teams wasting big chances in the final 10 minutes, but the Crew re-solidified its position with the clock winding down. Halfway through four minutes of stoppage time, a weaving Harrison Afful sent no fewer than four defenders flopping to the ground before finishing calmly to put the Crew 4-1 up and restore the significant advantage.
A goal fitting to win a two-legged tie, but knowing what kind of offense awaits us at Yankee Stadium, the matchup is far from over no matter the midway advantage.