Columbus Crew SC are still looking for their first win against the Montreal Impact, but there is optimism after tonight's 2-1 loss in the first game of the semifinal series and the return game coming next Sunday at MAPFRE Stadium.
Crew SC almost got that perfect start from an early goal with a great Federico Higuain look in the third minute. The chance was set up with the ball getting swung in from the left side and falling to Higuain on the right side of goal, but he chose a close range chip and it failed to test Evan Bush as it went well high.
Next it was Montreal's turn for a golden chance. Ambroise Oyongo lobbed what would normally be considered a hopeful ball forward from midfield in the 15th minute, but with Didier Drogba it connected. Drogba took down the pass, shouldered Michael Parkhurst away to free up space and fired a point blank shot that forced a Steve Clark save. The rebound caromed into the goal, but was waved off as it came off Drogba's arm.
Both teams settled in after a few nervous opening moments and Crew SC would get the next chance and they'd take it. They grabbed that vital away goal in the 33rd minute off an Impact error and opportunistic finishing. A quick free kick was taken wide and Justin Meram sent a hopeful ball in. Drogba's clearance was a knock down header to a wide open Higuain. He didn't miss this time as he half volleyed for the important away goal.
That lead lasted four minutes as Crew SC's terrible set piece defending reared it's ugly head again. Wil Trapp sent the ball behind goal to clear a dangerous cross. Ignacio Piatti would send in another dangerous ball and Patrice Bernier would rise above Kei Kamara to tie the game.
The track meet pace slowed in the second half as Montreal tired and Crew SC appeared content to hold the edge going into the second leg. The Impact stayed compact and Columbus patiently probed and held possession. Neither team looked likely to stake a lead. Crew SC had the ball, but struggled to create any real chances. The Impact just didn't have the ball enough to test Clark, but mistakes sunk Columbus again.
That mistake would come with a simple recycling of possession on the back line, Michael Parkhurst received a ball and took a heavy touch at the halfway line. Johan Venegas stepped up to press and forced a turnover from the team captain. Venegas dribbled down the short field and slotted the ball past Clark to give Montreal the lead with little over ten minutes remaining.
Montreal was content to close out the game with a lead, but then the game got weird. A simple pass led to a turnover and a goal earlier, this time it would lead to a tackle and a yellow card. Clark took the pass to cycle it back to Gaston Sauro, but Drogba came in to pressure late. He slid with a late tackle from behind to upend the keeper. Drogba then grabbed Clark's leg and didn't let go until Clark shook him free. Drogba earned a yellow for the utterly bizarre and dangerous series of events.
Sadly for Crew SC that was the only noteworthy action to close out the game. The wings remained ineffective to the end while Higuain scored the goal, but struggled otherwise to make an impact as his touch was poor and his passes misfired. Kei Kamara occasionally got the ball, but was collapsed on by at least two Impact defenders.
Columbus isn't in a bad spot, but they do need a win coming into the game next Saturday and the prospect of a Montreal goal at MAPFRE would change the complexion of the series entirely. Crew SC has a week to digest the loss and figure out how crack the Impact defense. Ultimately, without a goal next week, the season is over.