The story entering the match was how badly the Columbus Crew SC players wanted to get over the hump. Not only did the team want to reach the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time since 2010, but the players expressed the their desire to do it at the expense of the Chicago Fire, who had a perfect 5-0 record against the Black & Gold in the tournament.
Make it six on the trot for the Fire, who once again eliminated Columbus from the Open Cup, this time by 2-1 score line.
While Gregg Berhalter has stuck with a variation of a 4-5-1 formation throughout much of his three years in charge of Crew SC, the head coach elected to shift to a 3-5-2 for this match. This is not unheard of for the Black & Gold, who have used this system in scrimmages and previous Open Cup matches, but it did seem to take time for the players to settle into despite not differing too much from the normal formation.
Like many matches in Major League Soccer play this season, Crew SC dominated in possession (67.8% of the ball) and created chances (16 shots). The problems that have persisted all year continued for a team with just three wins in 2016, as the possession was not in dangerous areas and the Black & Gold only managed two shots on goal.
Chicago meanwhile played the counterattack game perfectly and capitalized on two of the team’s three shots on goal.
Forward David Accam collected a ball on the break just seven minutes into the match and although defender Chad Barson had good position initially, Accam was able to cut back onto his right foot and fire a shot from outside the 18-yard box that beat goalkeeper Brad Stuver into the side netting.
Three minutes later and Accam nearly had his second of the night, as Columbus were again exposed on the counter. This time, the Ghanaian’s shot was wide of the mark.
Despite six first half shots, Crew SC only managed to put one on frame and it did not trouble goalkeeper Matt Lampson. The 15th minute effort came on a deflected shot from midfielder Hector Jimenez that hit off forward Ola Kamara, but the redirect took the sting out of the attempt and Lampson collected with ease.
The Fire doubled the advantage just before the half hour mark. This time it came from a cross from rookie right back Rodrigo Ramos. The defender was allowed to control the ball and pick his head up by Columbus’ Waylon Francis and he found Accam at the back post for an easy one-touch finish.
Berhalter attempted to retool things at the halftime break, electing to bring on two usual starters in Wil Trapp and Ethan Finlay. While Trapp’s presence seemed to help control things that much more, Finlay struggled to latch onto the end of crosses while playing as an undersize target forward.
While Crew SC continued to control the ball to start the second half, it was Chicago who had the better of the chances in the early portion of the second 45 minutes.
Forward Kennedy Igbonananike came streaking down the left side of the attack just four minutes into the second half and fired a shot that was blocked by the sliding effort of Barson. Just a few minutes later, Igbonananike again created space on the left and delivered a cross looking for Accam, but Tyson Wahl was able to deflect the chance behind over the end line.
Columbus players began to celebrate a goal in the 58th minute when midfielder Crisitan Martinez beat Lampson after a deflected Meram shot, but the 19-year old was called offside and the score remained 2-0.
It was referee Nima Saghafi who got the Black & Gold back in the match after 78 minutes. The official called a controversial handball on Fire defender Johan Kappelhof inside the 18-yard box after Finlay fired a shot. The midfielder turned forward stepped up and converted his second penalty kick in as many Open Cup matches to give his team a lifeline.
Crew SC threw numbers forward, over the final 11 minutes of the match, but could not find an equalizer to force overtime.
The loss means the Black & Gold have failed to reach the Open Cup quarterfinals 13 times in the last 14 seasons. It also keeps Columbus winless against their rivals from Chicago in the tournament.
Crew SC now only have Major League Soccer play to focus on in 2016. The Black & Gold currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only the Fire by five points, but remain only four points back of the final playoff spot.
Columbus travels to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday looking for the club’s first road win of the year and some momentum to carry forward into the rest of the season.