On Decision Day 2017, Columbus Crew SC came into the final match of the regular season with everything to play for. And play of it the team did.
A wide open, back and forth affair with New York City FC saw the Black & Gold manage a 2-2 draw at Citi field, taking the early lead, falling behind and then leveling the match.
Crew SC got off to a great start when forward Ola Kamara and playmaker Federico Higuain combined to give Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute. Higuain received a pass out on the wing and sent a lofted cross into Kamara. The crafty forward allowed the ball to bounce before hitting a left-footed shot passed Sean Johnson for the 1-0 advantage.
Just seven minutes later, the home side was level thanks to David Villa. He then doubled his tally just before halftime.
The 2016 Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player did not play against Crew SC in the only other meeting this season, a 3-2 win to NYCFC, yet was a thorn in the visitors side on Sunday, scoring with a headed effort from a corner kick in the 18th minute and tucking a shot from the top of the penalty area under Zack Steffen in first half stoppage time.
Columbus came out the aggressor in the second half, looking for the equalizer.
Gregg Berhalter’s team found it in the 58th minute when center back Josh Williams out jumped Johnson to head home an Higuain corner kick.
Knowing that a draw would not help his team to second place and avoid the knockout round, Berhalter urged his players forward and brought on attacking substitutions.
While Crew SC created offensive chances, but was unable to put any away, Steffen had to come up big to keep the Black & Gold level.
His first heroic effort came when he dove to deny a long-range rocket from Villa. The second came in second half stoppage time when, after video review, the goalkeeper was judged to have brought down a New York City attacker in the penalty box.
Villa stepped to the spot with a chance to give his team the full three points, but Steffen dove low to his right to keep the effort from 12 yards out and preserve the draw for Crew SC.
Ten and counting
Crew SC needed a win to move up in the East standings on its way to the playoffs. The result didn’t happen, but the team managed to extend its unbeaten run to 10 games. The Black & Gold is on an impressive run to conclude the regular season, amassing six wins and four ties dating back to August 12.
Williams and his killer instinct
Center back Josh Williams once begged for a professional goal in black and goal. Now he has become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons for Crew SC.
Deadly on set pieces, the 29-year-old defender scored three goals in his last four games for Columbus. Williams found his scoring touch again after four years, last scoring in 2013 before his game winner against the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 23.
Kamara makes history
Ola Kamara had a great debut campaign for the Black & Gold and is having an even better second season for Crew SC.
The Norwegian scored his 18th and final goal of the regular season against NYCFC. The striker, who found the back of the net 16 times last year, is now tied with Stern John for third in single-season goals for the club. Kamara scored in six of the last eight matches.