Needing to dig out of another hole in front of a sold out MAPRFRE Stadium, Gregg Berhalter turned to his bench. That bench delivered again as Columbus Crew SC came back to beat Sporting Kansas City 3-2.
A fatigued Sporting Kansas City team came out fast from the opening whistle with early pressure that left Crew SC struggling to create chances while countering quickly on offense to spread the gaps in the home side's back line.
The visitors would use this plan effectively for their first goal. Matt Besler's entry pass was headed by Dom Dwyer to the rushing Saad Abdul-Salaam. With Wahl and Francis pulled wide, Abdul-Salaam cruised into the penalty box and crossed through the six yard box to set up an easy Marcel De Jong finish in the 14th minute.
Columbus would struggle to create a serious chance until Harrison Afful would take a pass ad midfield and press forward into space in the 35th minute. Afful then zipped a centering pass to Federico Higuain in traffic. After a little magic, Higuain would rip a twenty yard shot that rang the crossbar. Kei Kamara wrangled the ball and eventually fired a pass across the goalmouth that Finlay redirected home for the tying goal.
Replays would show that Kamara was offside on the initial Higuain shot and the goal shouldn't have stood.
Columbus came close just before halftime. In the 41st minute, Ethan Finlay was clipped as he was slipped a through ball. Justin Meram would send a free kick that forced Tim Melia to make a diving punch. The visitors would clear the danger.
Taking advantage of a tiring Sporting Kansas City side, Crew SC tried to press the advantage. Playing quickly, switching the point of attack, Columbus would pile pressure on the beleaguered Sporting defense. Kamara would get two shots off, but the visitors bent, but didn't break.
Kansas City would use that pressure to grab the lead in the 62nd minute. With Crew SC pushing up on a corner kick, Graham Zusi would take a clearing touch and push past several Crew SC defenders that had gone forward for the corner. With Michael Parkhurst closing quickly, Zusi would take a touch and bend a curling shot for the goal. After controlling the second half, Crew SC trailed on a stunner against the run of play.
With time running down and a Sporting holding on to that late lead, Berhalter turned to the bench. He first turned to Jack McInerney in place of Justin Meram to give Columbus more options forward. Then he took out leading scorer Kei Kamara in place of winger Cedrick Mabwati. Berhalter would explain this as a tactical switch. He wanted speed and width. It paid off.]
McInerney would almost immediatly conjure a golden chance. He took a long pass and tapped it into space. Higuain ran on to the ball and had a one on one with Melia, but he sent the shot wide.
Crew SC held the ball in the Sporting half of the field for nearly the entirety of the second half. The addition of Cedrick spread Kansas City even further. A chasing Mikey Lopez fouled Waylon Francis. Higuain would drill a free kick into the heart of the Kansas City box that Tyson Wahl nodded to the far side. Tony Tchani collected and fired in the game tying goal in the 80th minute.
Not content, Crew SC lead by Cedrick and McInerney searched for the winner and they would find it late. Parkhurst lobbed a pass from the half line into the Kansas City penalty area that would free Higuain in the box. The one touch shot forced Melia into a last ditch save. The rebound fell to McInerney with an open net in front of him. He didn't miss and Crew SC had their deserved comeback.
With Crew SC in danger of wobbling after an improbable goal against the run of play, it was the subs that would keep the pressure on. Cedrick's defense stretching runs further tired a Sporting Kansas City team that has played three times in a week and had an Open Cup game in the middle of last week. McInerney found those soft spots in the defense and buried his chances.
It wasn't a "must win" in the classical sense. The playoffs weren't at stake. It wasn't win or go home. However, Crew SC desperately needed something from this home stand and they got it from the bench. After losing a lead and tying New York on Wednesday, tonight's win goes a long way to keeping Columbus in the hunt for a top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs as the season heads to the final two months.