2020 has certainly thrown out a lot of plans that were in place for everyone. One team in MLS that has remained unphased and focused through all the distractions Covid has laid out, is the Columbus Crew. Right before the league went in to lockdown back in March, Columbus looked like the toughest team in the Eastern Conference. When play resumed the club hasn’t skipped a beat. This regular season, the Crew have gone 12W-6L-5D finishing third in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t let their position in the conference at the end of the regular season fool you. They’ve so far looked like the team with the best odds of representing the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup Final. They’ve been a very hard team to beat all season. Now, the Crew are one match away from going to their third MLS Cup Final.
Head Coach Caleb Porter can’t pin the club’s overall success on one specific thing the club has done differently this year than in seasons prior. Porter credits the success this season, stems from the team acknowledging all the factors that must be accounted in order to compete for championships on a consistent basis. There’s plenty of factors the team has acknowledged.
“When you build a winning club, when you get a team to this point, it’s everything. You know, everything adds up, every details matter,” says Porter. “Whether it’s the sport science. Obviously, we had a lot of injuries last year, so we have less injuries this year. That’s a factor.”
Perhaps the biggest factor for the Crew was the acquisition of midfielders Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe in the offseason. An MLS veteran, Nagbe reunites with Head Coach Caleb Porter for a third time. Nagbe previously played under Porter’s guidance for the Portland Timbers in MLS and at the collegiate level for the University of Akron as well.
Argentine Lucas Zelarayan was signed in January from Mexican club Tigres UANL. The acquisition of Zelarayan was heralded by MLS as signifying a new era for Columbus. Having turned 28 years old in June, Zelarayan is part of the club’s long-term plans.
“They’ve allowed us to execute the philosophy a bit better, more clearly this year, especially in the attack,” Porter says. “I would say just the evolution into a winning team, a team with a tougher mentality, a team that’s willing to fight for points, fight for positions in the table, and fight for trophies. That mentality takes time to build, that belief takes time to build but, most of the credit goes to the players. They are the ones in the trenches having to step up and make plays,” Porter continues.
“I’ve always believed this that you are going to go in the direction of your strongest players, your best players, and your biggest personalities and leaders in the locker room. If those guys are hungry to win games and trophies, the best thing I can do is serve them and guide them.”
Lucas Zelarayan notes the reason the team is only one match away from an MLS Cup Final is because everyone on the team shares the same objectives and does the things asked by the coaching and medical training staff day in and day out.
“At the end of day, it’s teamwork and the unity of the team,” Zelarayan says. “When you are in a team, you want to make sure that everyone is puling in the same direction and that you are all pulling forward together.”