(Photo credit: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Cucho Hernandez scored the second-fastest hat trick from kickoff in MLS history when the host Columbus Crew defeated the Chicago Fire 3-0 on Wednesday to clinch a playoff berth.
Hernandez converted penalties in the 8th and 16th minutes and a header off a corner kick seven minutes later as the Crew (14-9-6, 48 points) ran their home unbeaten streak to eight wins and two ties.
His official time for the goals was 22:51. The fastest hat trick from the start was 16 minutes by Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC (in a six-minute span), also against the Fire on July 18, 2021.
Chicago (8-12-9, 33 points) has five losses and a tie in the past six matches. The Fire have been shut out in five straight matches (493 minutes) and have not won in Columbus since June 2013 (10 losses, four ties).
The Crew returned to the playoffs for the first time since winning the 2020 MLS Cup when D.C. United tied Atlanta United 1-1 on Wednesday.
Hernandez's hat trick was his second this month. He needed 65 minutes at CF Montreal on Sept. 2 to accomplish the feat. Of his 13 goals this season, seven have been in the past three matches.
His outburst was a franchise record for the quickest three goals. Stern John had a hat trick in 28 minutes against Kansas City (now Sporting Kansas City) on Aug. 16, 1998.
Forward Diego Rossi created the first penalty that was given after video review when he made a run toward the left post and was clipped by Chicago goalkeeper Chris Brady, who was cautioned.
Hernandez scored to the left corner. Soon after, Columbus midfielder Yaw Yeboah was tugged by defender Arnaud Souquet on his way through the box for the second PK.
Souquet was carded and will miss the next match because of yellow-card accumulations.
A snap header by Hernandez from 10 yards of a cross by midfielder Julian Gressel completed the hat trick.
The Fire went to 10 players in the 67th minute when midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri was shown a second yellow for a studs-up challenge.
Chicago had six yellows in addition to the red.
--Field Level Media