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Columbus Crew Can Take Pride in Their Independence Day Performance

Despite leaving Colorado with only a single point, the Black and Gold showed how good they can be when things come together.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night's match with the Colorado Rapids will appear on the results sheet the same as the previous three Columbus Crew results: a draw. The game though was more than that.

Many fans clamored after the match that the Black and Gold were robbed of three points by an out of position assistant referee, who flagged Jairo Arrieta with an offside call, despite appearing even with the ball when it was played on the replay. There may be some merit in the complaints, but what do they say about crying over spilled milk?

Instead, the Crew are looking at how they played in a high-altitude game on a short week as a positive, despite only leaving Denver with a single point.

"I thought it was an exciting soccer game for the fans and I think that we put a lot of effort into that game and a lot of commitment; both teams did.  I think a draw in this case is a fair result," Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter told TheCrew.com after the match.

Fans don't like ties and players will be disappointed they couldn't come away with a win, but the performance was better than some of the recent draws.

This was the first game of the season the Crew did not lead the final possession statistics - the Rapids had 52.1% of the ball - but they did dominate in other areas. Columbus finished the night with 19 shots, putting eight on goal, and were remarkably successful on crosses, completing 52% of the 25 they served.

Stats are one thing and they sometimes lie, but no one can take anything away from the Black and Gold's performance in the second half.

After a two minute period that saw the Crew's opening goal called back and an own goal from Eric Gehrig to give Colorado a 1-0 lead, the players could have put their heads down and allowed the adverse conditions to overwhelm them. They did not.

"It came against the run of play," Berhalter said of Ethan Finlay's 76th minute equalizer.

"We came out good in the second half and had a bunch of chances. I think we had that goal called back for offside. I felt really confident in what we were doing in the second half. To respond after they scored was good and especially to dig deep in the altitude and come back into the game was very good."

The Crew are no strangers to coming from behind, as they have had a flair for the dramatic at times this season, but this somehow felt different. They played a good second half that likely would have resulted in a win if it weren't for seven saves from Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin.

"It's a tough place to come and play," Finlay told reporters after the game. "If you can get a point on the road it's great. But I think if you ask the group as a whole it's a little bit frustrating.

"Quite a few ties in a row now that we've had. I think we had a lot of chances tonight and they didn't quite go our way. If we put some of those early ones away maybe we can win that game, but I think it's a tough place to play and we'll be happy with the point."

The last two draws - 0-0 against FC Dallas and D.C. United - were both lackluster affairs with few chances for either team involved. The 1-1 tied with Real Salt Lake the match before saw Columbus trail for the majority of the game before getting a late equalizing goal.

The Rapids game felt like one the team wanted to win and certainly one they could have. That is something that hasn't been said about this team in a while and is a good sign moving forward. The second half, and specifically the final 20 minutes after going down 1-0, really showed this desire.

"It was a little bit of urgency," Berhalter said. "And then it was also we were moving the ball quicker. It was really deciding and then going after it. At times in the first half we were protecting it a little bit and not really going for it. In the second half, the ball movement and the ball tempo was really good."

The head coach has discussed the importance of moving the ball quickly ad nauseum this year and his players have continued to put in the work. To see them doing it with only four days of rest, a mile above sea level only means good things.

"Once we were able to get it down in their final third, keep the ball and move it side to side, swing their defense and get some balls in the box, I think we were dangerous," Finlay said.

"I think we have to be patient in the final third. I think when we were in the last 20 minutes we saw ourselves with some better opportunities."

Through 17 matches, the Black and Gold have shown bits and pieces of how they ultimately want to play under a new coaching staff. On Friday, things seemed to culminate and it almost resulted in a big road win.

It will now be about carrying this improved ball movement and attacking play going forward and sustaining it through 90 minute matches.