Columbus Crew SC squandered a tenuous one-goal lead, conceding visiting Eastern Conference rival D.C. United's lone score just before second-half stoppage time kicked in on Saturday night, in what would end up a 1-1 draw.
Columbus flirted with a win that might have been, until substitute Fabian Espindola's 89th minute equalizer dashed the host's hopes late. It would have been a relieving result with the Black & Gold's winless streak spanning seven league matches, back to May 28.
In stark contrast with the sloppy play fielded versus a Toronto FC side that notably lacked offensive star power on Wednesday, Columbus attacked more coherently, if slowly, Saturday evening. Characteristically, Crew SC won the possession battle but elected to shore up defensively as United clambered back into into the game in the last 20 minutes with a man-up advantage.
The red card, coming on a controversial call by head referee Silvio Petrescu in the 74th minute, was given to Crew SC for a challenge by defender Harrison Afful on Marcelo Sarvas. Sarvas stuttered his footwork in possession and Afful slid at an angle to try win the ball. Though in control and only getting the ball, Afful's cleats were out. That was enough for Petrescu to book the ejection, although the referee said after the match he did not see what followed: Sarvas landing with his cleats on Afful after the tackle.
In an effort to reinforce the back line in the void left by Afful's departure, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter used his third and final substitution to bring defender Chad Barson on in the 86th minute, sacrificing winger Justin Meram to the bench. It was a last-ditch effort as United had sensed the opening the man advantage gave them, and the payoff came for the visitors as substitute Fabian Espindola successfully converted his chance.
The goal for Columbus came off a touch in the six-yard box by forward Ola Kamara in the 63rd minute. Midfielder Tony Tchani launched a throughball up to a sprinting Afful, who tapped over a cross parallel to the goal line for the assist to the striker. It was a quintessential Crew SC goal that accurately represented the team's preferred attacking style.
After descending to the bottom standings spot league-wide three days ago following the TFC draw, the inability to make up significant ground with a win continued to haunt Columbus.
In an overhaul of the lineup seen Wednesday, Congolese midfielder Cedrick Mabwati started at right wing and played well in concert with Afful amid huge pockets of space in the first half, though the final pass was often close yet tantalizingly lacking. His speed and creativity gave the team a different look, but they still only managed two shots in the first 45.
United nearly got the first goal just after halftime with sustained pressure and multiple set pieces. Goalkeeper Steve Clark would notch a couple of saves during this spurt of activity from the visitors, while the defense struggled to clear decisively.
Crew SC nearly escaped with three points despite tired legs and short rest, but the late dramatics from D.C. United would ensure another disappointing night for a flagging Columbus side.
A win is vital for the last leg of a three-game homestand. Kickoff for the match against OCSC on July 23 is slated for 7:30 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium.