'Big' Afful goal sends Columbus Crew into MLS Eastern Conference final

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Noah K. Murray
Head coach Gregg Berhalter talks up the importance of the first leg strike following a fierce second leg on Sunday

When Harrison Afful netted a solo goal in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinal first leg to hand Columbus Crew a 4-1 win over New York City FC, the goal earned global recognition mainly because of its beauty.

In the second minute of injury time, the 31-year-old intercepted a pass just outside the box, beat four men before placing his final effort beyond goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the last goal of the game.

Four days later, the strike has risen to utmost importance as it effectively handed Crew passage to the final on a 4-3 aggregate as the Black and Gold fell 2-0 away in the second leg on Sunday.

“I think from a quality standpoint, I think that was an amazing goal, so we were excited about that," Columbus Crew sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said after Sunday's match.

"In these legs, every goal is important and every goal helps.

"That’s why when we went up 2-0, our focus was on scoring more goals. We knew this was going to be a tough place to play [on Sunday].

"We knew the size of the field. We knew the opponents are very good opponents. 

"We knew the crowd was going to be behind them. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, so that goal was big.”

Two-nil down and 14 minutes to go, Berhalter threw on Afful's compatriot Lalas Abubakar for Ola Kamara in Sunday's fixture.

At the time, City were knocking for a third goal, which would have been enough to throw the game in their favour.

“Well they were focused on getting the ball in the penalty box, so a lot of good crosses," Berhalter explained.

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"We felt like we were having some difficulty, especially spreading across the line and covering ground, so we wanted to bring in an extra defender and be able to deal with some of those crosses. 

"I think we did a good job. I think safe from that one crazy play, the crazy scramble at the end, we were pretty much in control in the last 15 minutes.”

Crew will face Toronto FC in the final. 

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