CINCINNATI – With the Hell is Real rivalry as real as it’s ever been, the Crew emerged victorious.
In the first-ever Hell is Real playoff game, Columbus went on the road and defeated Supporters’ Shield winner FC Cincinnati 3-2 in overtime of the Eastern Conference final, thanks once again to Christian Ramirez.
A familiar hero, Ramirez stepped up for the Crew, scoring the game-winning goal from just in front of the net late in the second overtime period. This comes a week after Ramirez scored the opening goal in overtime in the Crew’s 2-0 win over Orlando City in the Eastern Conference semifinals and five days after welcoming her third child.
“Emotional week. I’m just grateful for all the help from my family. Just letting myself try to live this week like a normal week, get enough sleep,” Ramirez said. “We still have one more week, one more game to come.”
Early in the match, it was a misstep by Mo Farsi that allowed FC Cincinnati to take the lead when the Crew’s starting right back lost possession near the penalty box. Cincinnati’s Aaron Boupendza got the ball and found Brandon Vazquez, who quickly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, giving the home team a 1-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the game.
After falling behind, the Crew controlled the ball, with over 65% possession throughout the first half. The problem was their inability to get the ball past the Cincinnati defense. By halftime, Columbus had six of its 11 shots blocked.
Their woes followed them on the defensive side of the ball during extra stoppages in play in the first half. Almost in the exact spot where Farsi lost the ball earlier in the match, Crew’s Steven Moreira was shown a yellow card. This resulted in a free kick on the edge of the box for FC Cincinnati, which reigning MVP Luciano Acosta scored, putting Columbus up 2-0.
This was familiar territory for the crew. Although they ultimately lost 3-2, when Columbus visited TQL Stadium in May, they were up by two goals.
“Every day in practice we put ourselves in similar scenarios like this,” Schulte said. “If you’re down, you have to fight until the end, and this group is a special group. So we knew we were going to fight until the end, and we had 45 minutes left at that point- there. “.
It was much of the same for the Crew early in the second half, struggling to build momentum when in control of the ball. The team’s coach, Wilfried Nancy, made a lineup change in the 65th minute, replacing Julian Gressel and Ramirez for Farsi and Aidan Morris, respectively.
“Tactically, I had to change something,” Nancy said. “I needed more players between the lines, that’s why I decided to put Christian and Julian. Also, to give us something different, but it was a difficult decision.”
This change ultimately led to the Crew’s first goal of the night. Gressel delivered a cross intended for Ramirez 75 minutes into the match, but volleyed a volley off the foot of Cincinnati’s Alvas Powell for an own goal. Ramirez was confident he was credited with the goal, but his moment would come later in the match.
The Crew’s night was far from over, and with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, Diego Rossi finally found the back of the net with a goal from the center of the box to tie the match 2-2.
And when the whistle blew to signal the end of regulation, the score stayed that way, so the Crew headed into overtime for the second straight playoff game. Unlike the Crew’s match against Orlando City SC, during which the first overtime period went scoreless, this match went down to the wire. But it was again Ramirez who scored the winning goal.
The Crew will now host the MLS Cup Final, which will be the first MLS championship game at Lower.com Field. This match will take place next Saturday, December 9, against the winner of the Western Conference final between Los Angeles FC and Houston.
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