Rayados got off to another quick start in yesterday’s match in Columbus, Ohio, as they tried to bring back a positive result for the second leg of their QF series. It was so quick that within the first 30 seconds, they had already attempted two crosses inside the Crew’s penalty box. Aguirre’s players were running on the pitch and looked hungry. That culminated in the 9th minute, when Columbus midfielder Artur recovered a lose ball but failed to control it adequately, resulting in the ball spilling back into Aké Loba’s boots. He found an open Jonathan González who returned the favor, and with a slipping and falling Keita, Loba simply punched a shot into the bottom right corner of keeper Room. And for the remaining 36 minutes + stoppage time of the first half, Rayados didn’t have another clear chance again.
Columbus on the other hand, created at least six close goal-scoring opportunities, which to nobody’s fault but their own, ended in simple misses. Now, much to The Crew’s coach Caleb Porter’s dismay, the ref had nothing to do with the score in the first half; for instance, despite Zelarayan not meaning to step on Vegas’ foot, he did arrive late after Vegas poked the ball away cleanly. The ref was 100% right in showing him the yellow card. Whether he could’ve booked other Rayados players for other fouls is another story, but this particular Zelarayan fould was both well whistled and punished. The other play he pointed to in the first half was the Zardes clash with keeper Cárdenas. In no way was that a penalty; Zardes got to the ball first, but by the time he made impact with Cárdenas, the keeper had already stopped and purposely stayed out of the striker’s way. Zardes caused the impact, not the keeper. A great no-call by the refs.
However, the second half was a bit of a different story in the officiating category. Rayados once again came out firing for the first 15 minutes, but for the final 30, again floated around and simply waited for Columbus, lacking effort and focus. After a huge misjudgement by left-back Jesús Gallardo on the byline resulted in Milton Valenzuela’s 1-1 goal in the 65th minute, it was five minutes later when the questioned play of the game occurred. After a great Josh Williams assist for a Bradley Wright-Phillips score, it appeared Williams could’ve been off-side. Referee Juan Gabriel Calderón used VAR to review it, and determined Crew’s defender Williams was indeed off-side. It’s too close to call, and there’s no conclusive evidence he is off-side to have overturned the ruling of a goal. In this particular play, Calderón was wrong and VAR should’ve confirmed the goal.
Even after that controversial call, Calderón drew more attention to himself again, after he blew another clear call, when Kranevitter stuck his cleats right into Nagbe’s calf and heel, which deserved a red card. Calderón didn’t even book the Argentine midfielder. Columbus continued its assault, and Williams was again involved, this time with a header that went straight to the crossbar and cleared from danger. Then came Zelarayan’s great first touch strike to the bottom-right corner to give Columbus its first lead.
For the final 6-7 minutes of the match, Rayados appeared to flip on a switch. All of a sudden, they were recovering balls left and right, applying high pressure on Columbus’ defenders, and The Crew had nowhere to go with the ball as Monterrey seized control of that final stretch. After insisting for a couple of plays, Monterrey found its opening. A revolutionized Dorlan Pabón who looked the Pabón of old, took the ball on the right-hand side in the 3rd minute of stoppage time and sent a perfect cross that found the head of a wide open Alfonso Alvarado on the edge of the six-yard box who simply put it away against a helpless keeper.
The referee’s mistakes aside, Columbus vastly dominated this match and deserved to win. With that being said, Rayados proved that when they want to, they can also be effective with the ball, and are vastly superior to any other team who stands in front of them in this tournament. As soon as they decided to go for it at the end of yesterday’s match, they got the score they wanted in just five minutes’ time. The Crew defense was simply no match at the end. The second leg will be played on Wednesday, May 5th, when Rayados hope to have clinched a top-4 spot in the league table and can therefore use their entire arsenal, as they would have that first-round bye week. However, if they fail to beat Mazatlán on Saturday, they could be looking at another incomplete squad to face the second and definitive leg of this series.