The Black and Gold reversed the score from exactly one year ago. But, it wasn't pretty.
Unlike when I arrive at a regular season match, the parking lots were empty. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the Dayton Dutch Lions fans carpooled to the match... in one car. I made my rounds, short as they were, before heading into the open-air bowels of Crew Stadium. What met me was a ghost town. The concrete walls under the stands normally reverberate with the many sounds of match day. Not so much on this warm evening.
With the game fast approaching and the temperature hovering near the 90 degree mark, I wondered what possessed human beings to subject themselves to this form of punishment in May. Were they curious as to whether the Crew could shrug the US Open Cup early exit monkey off their backs? Or, did they think that Dayton would come onto the pitch and dominate their team?
Gazing at the teams as they entered the field through the haze of the late-afternoon sun (who's idea was it to put the press box in the East stands, anyway?), everyone seemed to be moving in slow-motion. I settled in as the first-kick was taken. Having to squint to get past the glare of the setting sun doesn't help my demeanor, in the least.
As the match got underway, it became clear that the Crew didn't seem to be taking this match very seriously. Their passing was poor, again. In contrast, the Dutch Lions were passing with zeal and forcefulness, seeming to stretch the Crew's backline with relative ease. The Black and Gold were looking tarnished and sluggish at the start.
I figured that this was going to turn into a snoozefest. Then... BOOM! RED CARD! Oh my, this just might get interesting. Dayton Defender Granger was shown a straight red at 14' for taking down Eddie Gaven just outside the box. Your beloved Pipa couldn't convert the free kick. But, with the Dutch Lions playing a man down for the better part of 75 minutes, this should be a walk in the park, right? Alas, the answer was no. You would be sorely mistaken if you thought that would galvanize the Crew. As Head Coach Robert Warzycha said post-game, "I'm glad it's over". You and me, both, Bobby. You and me, both...
The first half, after the red card, was a series of poor passes, missed chances and no finishing. It was brutal to watch, as this was not anywhere close to the "Beautiful Game" that everyone dreams of watching. I couldn't even begin to call this "serviceable". It was just plain ugly. Columbus should have been up two or three goals at the half. Instead, the score resembled a pair of eggs. Over-easy, not scrambled.
I needed some fresh air, STAT!!! The Dutch Lions were not doing what they were supposed to do. That is, roll over and play dead. Then again, the Crew were playing like... like... I just don't know. There was no "fire" in their belly. At least, it wasn't visible to me, the twelve Dayton fans who carpooled (together in one car), or the fifty-seven Crew fans in the Nordecke.. Okay, maybe it was more like sixty-one, but who's counting? It wasn't angst that I was seeing and hearing from the Crew faithful, it was almost apathy. At this point, it could be argued that they saw Dayton winning as a foregone conclusion. The vitriol that was spewing forth made me almost cringe. That's saying something, as I'm from New York and know a thing or two about cursing like a sailor.
I scurried back to the relative safety of the assembled media, few of them that there were. I figured if the masses (announced attendance 1,302... taken with grain of salt, for sure) decided to come after us with pitchforks raised, wanting to sacrifice someone to the "Soccer Gods", I could throw a few members of the Fourth Estate that were occupying the press box towards them. They would tear into them like rabid dogs. At that point, I could make my escape. Thankfully, I didn't have to do that. I'm sure that the assembled media also appreciated that.
The second half started much like the first, and then... BOOM!!! At 52', Eddie Gaven scored off a very nice pass from Higuain. Your Black and Gold had taken the lead. With Dayton starting to show signs of being a bit long in the legs, they were still managing to get behind the Crew. This paid off for them at the 78' mark. Suddenly, the match was tied at 1-1 and the sparse crowd was surely thinking that a repeat of one year ago was in the offing.
Back and forth the see-saw went, with Columbus controlling play, but Dayton making runs when they had the chance. That is, until the clock struck the 84' mark. Justin Meram, after coming in for Ben Speas at 65', bent a beautiful kick from the top of the circle to score the go-ahead goal. They were on top, yet again. Just two minutes later, Eddie Gaven went down after a somewhat hard challenge, and was stretchered off the pitch. With no word on his injury from Warzycha, it remains to be seen if he'll play on Saturday.
Columbus would almost allow the Dutch Lions to even the score late in the game, but held firm, ending with a 2-1 win. Matt Lampson on muffing his catch of the ball, "I completely slipped. My cleats went completely out from under me and my knee hit the ball. It went into them (Dayton) but I was then able to get on top of it. I'll have to have a word with the field crew and straighten things out because, that can't happen again." We both laughed at this, as you can imagine.
After listening to Robert Warzycha in the post-game presser, I snaked my way into the dressing room to get the real story from the players. Well, as "real" as they would let themselves be be when dealing with the media. "This was their Super Bowl", said Eric Gehrig, "At times, we didn't play our best soccer, but good teams find ways to get results when things aren't going your way." I'm drooling at this point, as he's eating pizza (so was Lamps) and I haven't had a stitch of food since lunch. You can see the confidence that Gehrig is feeling in his play on the pitch and the way he answered my questions after the match. He knows that it wasn't a pretty game. But, the score moves them to the next round.
By this time, I needed some food and a tall glass of scotch. Whichever came first didn't really matter to me. Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu!! I'm sure you can guess... the scotch came first.
It's a short turnaround for your Black and Gold, as they host Houston on Saturday. They need to play much better if they hope to get the three points from a tough Houston squad. Until then, I'm going in search of something. The thing is, I'm not really sure what it is...