For 75 minutes, the Philadelphia Union dealt a blow to the Crew's playoff chances. In four minutes, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, and Jairo Arrieta all but punched that elusive playoff ticket completing an unlikely comeback.
Columbus struggled out of the gates without the suspended Federico Higuain and Waylon Francis. The Union's aggressive pressing forced the Crew into numerous turnovers.
The first big chance came a minute into the game. Wil Trapp's exit pass deep in his own half was deflected right to Sebastian La Toux. Andrew Wenger headed the resulting cross just past Steve Clark's goal. The one way traffic continued with Wenger and Vincent Noguiera getting off early shots against the reeling visitors.
The union nearly would get the goal they'd been seeking in the 22nd minute as Conor Casey nearly redirected an open cross buzzed in across the Crew six-yard box.
Columbus would finally settle in as the Union press eased and cut down on the Philadelphia chances raining down on the Crew goal and sneak into halftime scoreless.
After withstanding a bombardment it would be the Crew who nearly got on the board first. Coming out reorganized in the second half, Columbus was finally able to play their crisp passing and possession game. The visitors earned a corner out of the pressure in the 58th minute and Zac MacMath's punch fell kindly to Meram. His bolt from 20 yards out rang off the crossbar and was soon cleared.
The Union once again settled and pressed their home advantage and camped out in the Crew's end. Fabinho lobbed in a cross towards the Crew goal in the 68th minute that found Amobi Okugo. His nodded header bounced to the middle of the Columbus six-yard box. Danny Cruz rushed and slammed home the loose ball past a stranded Clark to give the home side a well earned lead.
The Crew, desperately wanting to get some points from the game, pushed forward with numbers. Wenger out leapt Michael Parkhurst and nodded down a header to Noguiera. Noguiera broke into open space and fired a shot that Clark tipped. The ball skidded and caromed off the post. Wenger, who was trailing the play, cleaned up the rebound from a yard out to give the Union a two goal advantage with 15 minutes to play.
The odds of overturning the deficit were long and head coach Gregg Berhalter immediately looked to his bench by prepping Romain Gall and Emmanuel Pogatetz. The eleven on the field had different plans. Tony Tchani had struggled throughout the game picked up a poor Union turnover at midfield. He found Hector Jimenez pushing forward. Jimenez fired his cross past the Union backline and Finlay slipped in and finished his one time shot for his tenth goal of the season and restoring a small bit of hope to the Crew in the 78th minute.
With renewed energy, the Crew pushed forward again a minute later. Jimenez's quick throw found Finlay again. Ethan White and Finlay collided approaching the final third and the ball dribbled free. Referee Mark Geiger played advantage that Meram quickly took advantage of. He drove into the penalty area, cut around Okugo, and made the most of the space and clipped a shot around MacMath for the tying goal. In the span of one minute and 32 seconds, the Crew were tied.
The improbable became the impossible in the 82nd minute. Bernardo Anor pushed up the left side and assessed the assembling Union defense. Tchani saw a seam and made a run down the left channel into the penalty area and took a pass from Anor. He cut back a left foot cross to just outside the six-yard box and forward Jairo Arrieta beat Carlos Valdés to the spot and chipped the winner past MacMath.
Just how impossible was the comeback? Until last night, the Crew had never come back from a two goal deficit to win on the road. Until last night, they'd never scored three goals in such a short amount of time. And just how quickly did the Crew tally three goals, four minutes and 22 seconds. Finlay's goal crossed the line at 77:32 and Arrieta finished things off at 81:54.
The Crew's playoff outlook would have been far murkier without the win. Still in 5th, they would have been three points clear of Toronto and four ahead of Houston with two games remaining. Now they have a six point cushion and would have to collapse down the stretch while the Reds or the Dynamo would have to go on an extreme hot streak. The playoff drought is all but over.
Attention turns to New York and Sunday's important matchup. Red Bulls sit in 4th place with 47 points while the Crew are in 5th place with 46 points. A Crew win in Harrison would see them leapfrog over New York and be in good position to host a Wild Card game in late October. It also gives them an outside chance of moving into the top three spots and a bye from the Wild Card round.