However, consistent with its performances of late—blowing leads for draws versus Toronto FC and D.C. United at home, and conceding the winning goal in stoppage time at Sporting Kansas City—Crew SC gave up two scores in the second 45 to see three coveted points disintegrate into the consolation prize of only one.
The vulnerability the Black & Gold exhibited on set piece defense early in the 2016 season made its return, and the tendency to play with an overly conservative approach after acquiring a lead doomed their chance at victory.
Midfielder Tony Tchani opened the scoring at MAPFRE Stadium, when a service tap from left winger Justin Meram found him in stride about 20 yards away from goal. Tchani easily sidestepped the clustered right side of the OCSC back line in traffic to take advantage of a 1v1 matchup with goalkeeper Joe Bendik, and he easily put away an angled shot into the far right corner of the net across the six-yard box.
Bendik would receive a yellow card in the fifth minute of added first-half stoppage time for a tactical foul on Crew SC striker Ola Kamara in the penalty box. The Norwegian native had possession after starting No. 10 Mohammed Saeid fed him a pitch-skimmer, and Bendik surged forth to make contact rather than give up a high-percentage shot on goal.
Head referee Drew Fischer opted for a caution instead of a straight red; the tackle did not seem malicious and it appeared Kamara was running at an angle to evade the keeper rather than straight toward goal. Kamara took the awarded penalty kick and beat Bendik by drilling the ball into the same right corner of the net Tchani had found earlier.
Decisively carrying a 2-0 advantage into the locker room at the break, Columbus had accumulated 10 total shots, four of which had been on target. Even more impressionable was the fact that Crew SC had only five and two, respectively, when both teams took a hydration break in the 32nd minute. Columbus doubled its shot output in the 20 minutes that followed that break.
Possession was sitting at a hefty 60-40 split in favor of the home club, and all seemed headed for a commendable, relieving victory.
By allowing OCSC to set the pace early on in the second half, Crew SC was content to let its foe come forward and try to laboriously squeeze a goal out of a bunkering defense.
Orlando forward Cyle Larin had three shots denied by deflections on various spots on the crossbar and goalposts, but he would keep his focus and eventually find what he was looking for. One of his ricochets saw the ball spit back out, and Clark had to put up a huge effort to save and push aside the ensuing cleanup volleys to keep the score at 2-0.
The corner kick that came from that sequence was poorly defended by Columbus, and Meram was unable to react in time to obstruct Lions winger Kevin Molino's possession. The lead was suddenly halved after another momentary breakdown proved costly.
Orlando City moved to pounce on the momentum shift that goal provided, as Larin scored his 10th goal of the year by impressively beating defenders Michael Parkhurst and Harrison Afful in a 1v2 aerial duel for a successful header in the 70th minute. Molino provided the assisting cross in that Larin put away to shake off his woodwork woes.
The pace of play quickened to a frenetic level down the stretch. Both teams would each fire off five shots in the 74th minute or later.
Two of those last-ditch attempts for Columbus were off the foot of newly reactivated attacking midfielder Federico Higuaín, who came in to the game in the 71st as a substitute for Saeid. The added attacking vision he brought to the pitch was immediately noticeable, and chances seemed within reach. This was remarkable because the designated player, who had sports hernia surgery June 1, showed no signs of rust from his time of convalescence.
The final whistle came after five minutes of added stoppage time, and Crew SC defenders Corey Ashe and Tyson Wahl and midfielders Wil Trapp and Ethan Finlay put their hands on their knees in exhaustion and frustration as the franchise experienced its fifth straight home draw.
Columbus' record now sits at 3-7-10 as the Black & Gold will head to BMO Field for a third and final 2016 regular season matchup with Toronto FC next Sunday.