The Columbus Crew picked up a vital 3-1 win at the New York Red Bulls on the weekend to leapfrog ahead of their rivals in the Eastern Conference standings with one game left before the post-season.
The result might have been different, however, were it not for the stand-in performance from former Middlesbrough and West Ham United defender Emanuel Pogatetz, who, in 45 minutes of actions, showed just why he was brought to MLS last month by head coach Gregg Berhalter.
Forced on at the half for the inured Michael Parkhurst, the Austrian centre-back proceeded to stifle the opposition’s high-powered attacking, featuring Thierry Henry and the league’s leading-scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, in what was his first significant taste of action for his new side following a seven-minute cameo the previous week.
‘The last game, I also came on but only for the last 10 minutes. It's different from playing a whole half. That's why I felt a little bit not nervous, but not relaxed, I would say,’ he told the club’s official website.
‘But I had a good start in the game, right at the start there was a header I won straight away that gave me confidence, and the team supported me well.’
Although Lloyd Sam pulled a goal back for the Red Bulls on 58 minutes, Pogatetz ensured that the home side didn’t come any closer to a comeback with eight clearances, one tackle, two won duels and an interception on the night, and believes his side are now in a prime position to make a strong run for the MLS Cup title with their post-season spot assured.
‘I think [New York] has good quality up front, especially with Henry and [Wright-Phillips], but we defended very well and we looked dangerous on the counterattack, that's also how we scored,’ he said.
‘In this League, the games are always very tight. Most of the games are on an equal level. There are just a few teams that probably are a little bit stronger than other teams, but in general I would say that everyone can beat everyone in the League, it's just about the little details.
‘Most importantly, it's about the spirit, and I think we have a great spirit here. We have a great group. People can come off the bench, people out injured, whatever, we just stick together and play as a group and play for each other. We have no individuals who want to shine; we want to shine as a group and I think that can be the difference in the end why we can be successful.’
A win this coming Sunday over the Philadelphia Union will clinch the fourth play-off seed in the East for Columbus, and they could even jump ahead of reigning champions Sporting Kansas City into third if results go their way.
Pogatetz will likely stay on the bench for the game at Crew Stadium with captain Parkhurst’s injury not thought to be serious, but it’s certainly reassuring for his team to know that they have a reliable veteran waiting in the wings should anything happen to their defence.