Friday’s Crew game against FC Cincinnati was poised to be either Seventh Heaven or the Seventh Circle of Hell. Entering the match on a six-game losing streak, it was imperative that the defending MLS Cup champions, playing in front of their home crowd in their new stadium, proved to themselves and to the world that they are….not as bad as FC Cincinnati. What a season it’s been.
A few days before the game, Columbus Dispatch columnist Michael Arace was working on a piece about the Crew and Dante’s Inferno, and we talked about the Crew for a bit. He brought up that the 2006 LA Galaxy were on the only MLS Cup champion with a longer losing streak (seven games), but man did they have a lot going on. Their GM, Doug Hamilton, died at the age of 43 in March and then in June, they fired their coach, Steve Sampson, six games into that seven-game losing streak. There was a lot of upheaval on and off the field.
As I told Arace, the 2005 Galaxy were not ideal champions. To elaborate, they made the playoffs with a negative goal differential while finishing eighth out of 12 teams, mainly because they only had to breeze by two expansion teams in the West to qualify for the postseason, then went on a four-game run. Then they probably only won MLS Cup in overtime because they played the New England Revolution, who are required by supernatural law to lose MLS Cups in excruciating fashion. Anyway, the point is, the 2005 Galaxy were a fluke champion and their ensuing 2006 struggles reconfirmed the obvious narrative.
The same cannot be said of the 2020 and 2021 Columbus Crew. Last year’s Crew finished 3rd out of 26 teams and were worthy champions, authoring the biggest MLS Cup blowout in league history—against the defending champions no less—and then they added more firepower and were expected to seriously contend for multiple trophies this year. Yet, by late August, they found themselves below the playoff line while mired in the longest true (non-shootout) single-season losing streak in club history, facing the Laughingstock Lions of Northern Kentucky in a must-not-lose game.
And they didn’t lose. So there’s that. And in fact, they won! It required all kinds of historically significant achievements to get there, but when the final whistle blew, the Crew dutifully collected their expected largesse from the Blue and Orange Three-Points Dispenser.
Here are some of the crazy things that needed to occur in order for that to happen.
* Lucas Zelarayan scored yet another direct free kick. It was his fifth of the season, pulling him to within one of Sebastian Giovinco, who set the all-time single season record in 2017 while playing for Toronto FC. That’s the most since the direct free kick stats were first officially recorded in 2003.
The strike also set a new Crew single-season record. Zelarayan had previously been tied with Crew legend Robert Warzycha, who scored four direct free-kick goals in 2000. This number is gleaned from newspaper research, but it’s unofficial since the league did not formally track direct free kicks during Warzycha’s playing days.
Anyway, the point is Lucas Zelarayan is otherworldly and his otherworldliness was a base requirement in the effort to beat the lowly Flappy Knife Lions.
* Miguel Berry, who scored the equalizer earlier this year in Cincinnati when the Crew became the only road team in MLS history to be down two goals and a man, only to come back and steal a point, continued to make Cincinnatians sick to their stomachs as if he were Skyline “Chili” in human form.
With goals in the 81st and 82nd minutes, the first slotting home a rebound from the six, the second being in the way of a clearance of a rebound so as to serve as a human pinball bumper inside the six that directed the ball into the net, the alertly industrious Berry became only the fourth Crew player to ever score in back-to-back minutes. (Oh the things I spend hours researching because I just can’t help myself. Also, it was the 9th time the Crew ever scored in back-to-back minutes, although the very first instance involved an own-goal, so it was the 8th instance of actual Crew players scoring in back-to-back minutes.)
If you really want to parse it, though, Berry’s actually the third Crew player to accomplish what he did in the manner in which he did it. On July 23, 2005, Knox Cameron scored in the 45th and 46th minutes against Kansas City. Yes, as in the last minute before halftime and the first minute after half time. He scored in back-to-back minutes, but had some stoppage time and a 15-minute break in between, so it’s not exactly the same thing, although it’s incredibly awesome and impressive nonetheless.
What Berry did, whereby he scored a goal, the game restarted, and then he scored another goal in the very next minute, has only been done three times in Crew history.
1. Stern John in the 63rd and 64th minutes on June 16, 1998, in a 4-2 home loss to the Colorado Rapids. He quickly erased a 2-0 deficit, but sadly did not have an additional hat-trick in his arsenal that day.
2. Ethan Finlay in the 66th and 67th minutes on October 25, 2015, in the Decision Day Massacre of D.C. United. Finlay’s quick scores were the Crew’s third and fourth tallies in a 5-0 win.
3. Miguel Berry in the 81st and 82nd minutes on August 27, 2021, in a 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati. His goals were the margin that flipped a 2-1 loss to a 3-2 win.
So what a night for Miguel Berry. Any time you can be positively linked to Crew all-timers like Stern John and Ethan Finlay, you’ve done something special.
As for Berry being the fastest Crew player to do it? Yes-ish. Berry’s goals were officially 76 seconds apart. Finlay’s were 98 seconds apart. Stern’s gap is unknown. MLS did not track goals to the second until 2010. I have feelers out there trying to see if game tapes of the September 16, 1998 game exist and can be consulted to get an accurate measure of Stern’s accomplishment, but for now, we can only note that the Dispatch stated Stern scored his second goal off a Warzycha cross “on the next possession.” So it depends on how long it took to restart play and how long the Colorado and Columbus possessions were. In a more direct 1998, perhaps it wasn’t that long. If I ever find out a firm answer, I will let you know. But for now, Berry has the quickest provable back-to-back goals in Crew history.
* Another thing the Crew had to pull off to flip a six-game losing streak into a one-game winning streak was overcome a deficit after the 75th minute. Friday’s game was only the 11th time in Crew history that they trailed after the 75th minute and collected three points. The last time they did it was earlier this year! On May 22, the Crew trailed New York City on the road before Zelarayan banged in free kicks in the 82nd and 95th minutes for the 2-1 comeback win.
Friday’s reversal marked the first time in Crew history the team has staged two such comebacks in the same season.
* Something extra weird about all this is that the comeback from zero points to three points on late goals scored in consecutive minutes occurred in the very next game after the Crew turned three points into zero points on late goals scored in consecutive minutes.
The prior Saturday, the Crew lost to Seattle 2-1 after conceding goals in the 88th and 89th minutes. It was the tenth time in history the Crew gave away three points despite having the lead after the 75th minute, and it was only the third time in club history they’d ever allowed goals in back-to-back minutes.
So it was back-to-back “back-to-back” weirdness at Lower.com Field, in a pair of games that also featured rare late-game result-reversals. Players and coaches and pundits often say oddities “even out in the end” over the course of a long season, but in this case, a bunch of highly improbable stuff evened out in the span of six days.
It may have been weird and it may not have been artful, but after a six-game losing streak, all that matters in the end is that the MLS Cup polishers bested the Wooden Spoon polishers. The only thing stranger than the game itself was the existence of legitimate doubt.
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