In a contest largely marred by ineffective passing and roughshod attempts to counterattack, Columbus Crew SC was able to dig out a stoppage time draw from what seemed a sure defeat to the visiting New York Red Bulls.
Forward Ola Kamara, a week after being used only as a substitute against the Montreal Impact due to his lingering hamstring injury, returned to the starting lineup and managed to net the Columbus equalizer in front of a sellout MAPFRE Stadium crowd. He did struggle for much of the second half, however, before ending on a positive outcome-altering note.
Midfielder Ethan Finlay, back in his comfort zone playing as the right wing for the full 90 minutes, was able to figure out a way to engineer a successful sequence indirectly: his patient pass to a subbed-on Waylon Francis led to the Costa Rican national's assist on Kamara's strike, and Finlay earned credit for the secondary assist.
New York could have easily scored three on Crew SC Saturday night, as a soft header by Sacha Kljestan barely missed the goal in the 17th after a Mike Grella strike had caromed off the woodwork in the third minute of play.
Columbus adjusted admirably after 20 minutes had elapsed, recognizing and acting upon a dire need for an unfamiliar approach when RBNY was intercepting and disrupting the Black & Gold's possessions. Numerous open play crosses and undisciplined touches got away from the home club to keep them off the scoreboard for almost the entire match.
For all the progress Crew SC made during the latter part of the first half, Bradley Wright-Phillips' picturesque putaway in the 52nd seemed to dismantle it all.
Up until head coach Gregg Berhalter had used all three of his substitutions in the 80th to give the trailing Crew SC a boost, Columbus appeared out of answers for a Red Bulls scheme that was content to let the hosts make its own mistakes. Shots with no vision for goal soared over the crossbar off the foot of right back Harrison Afful three times in the span.
Kamara had appeared unwilling to pull the trigger on transitional looks with the ball, when trusting his instincts and firing off shots could have yielded dividends earlier. He botched the reception of a key pass from Justin Meram at one point along the left side of the midfield, resulting in a turnover. He also pulled up approaching the arc at one point and elected to pass it off laterally, something strikers on teams down a goal shouldn't reasonably even consider doing. RBNY's back line converged on his moment of reluctance to frustrate the chance.
Kamara would find form though.
His 78th minute opportunity was blocked, and onlookers had a glimpse of Finlay factoring into whatever Columbus might be able to muster late in the cutback pass to the forward.
Realizing the onus of scoring rested on his shoulders without the footwork of Justin Meram on the left available late, Kamara's goal saw MAPFRE erupt in relief as Columbus salvaged a key standings point when it seemed New York might enjoy the cushion of three to itself.
It was a physical match too, as three New York players were shown yellow in the first half alone. Columbus managed to play relatively clean football, and a foolhardy 60th minute shove by Tony Tchani in front of the assistant referee was the only booking the Black & Gold saw on the night. The Red Bulls were skilled at contesting possession, amassing 25 tackles throughout the match compared to only eight by Columbus.
Crew SC will look to translate the late momentum swing into a positive showing in their next match, a U.S. Open Cup road showdown against the Chicago Fire on Tuesday before heading to Sporting Park next Sunday for a league game at Sporting Kansas City.