On short rest, Columbus Crew SC came to Toyota Park, a place that has been a house of horrors for the Columbus visitors in recent years, and were able to salvage a late 1-1 draw thanks to second-half substitute Niko Hansen, who equalized just moments from the final whistle.
The first 45 minutes of the contest left much to be desired from two teams on little rest. The Fire travelled to Montreal on Saturday, only to lose 2-1 while Crew SC fell 3-1 at Atlanta United.
But the match started with a great chance for the Black & Gold. In the second minute, winger Justin Meram, making his first start since returning to Columbus at the beginning of August, dispossessed Bastian Schweinsteiger at the back. Dribbling into the Crew SC attacking third, Meram delivered a good low cross that forward Gyasi Zardes scuffed into the ground from six yards out allowing Fire goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland to collect with ease.
Two minutes later, and it was Wil Trapp giving the ball away and leading to a Chicago opportunity. The Black & Gold captain played a poor pass in his own half that was intercepted by winger Djordje Mihailovic. He dribbled towards goal but put his shot wide of Zack Steffen’s goal.
In the 23rd minute, the Fire went through on goal after a nice run by forward Nemanja Nikolic. Steffen came out quickly and got low to make the save, but a late flag by the assistant referee ruled Nikolic offside.
The best chance of the first half for Crew SC came in the 36th minute when, on the first corner kick for either team of the night, midfielder Ricardo Clark headed a shot on frame that had to be cleared off the line by the Men in Red.
The second half started much like the first ended with very little of note taking place. But in the 67th minute, the Fire finally broke through.
As has been the case of late when Columbus comes to Toyota Park, it was a mistake on the backline that gifted Chicago the opening goal. Left back Milton Valenzuela attempted to play a floated back pass but the only player in the vicinity was Nikolic, and he wears red. The striker jumped on the chance, tucking the ball past Steffen for the 1-0 advantage.
In the 74th minute, it looked like the Fire may get a chance for a second goal when winger Raheem Edwards went down after a tackle inside the penalty area. Center referee Armando Villarreal check with the Video Assistant Review official in the booth and did not elect to take a look at the play. No call was given.
Finally in the 87th minute, the Black & Gold found what they were looking for. Second half substitute Patrick Mullins played a low cross into the six-yard box that was deflected away but right to Hansen. The second-year player showed finesse with his finishing, putting the ball in the corner and leveling the game.
With one minute until stoppage time, Crew SC were hoping for a break. Pedro Santos attempted to flick the ball over an onrushing Cleveland, who stopped the ball with his hand. The problem was, the goalkeeper was outside the penalty area. No call with given. Villarreal check with the VAR again, but still gave no call due to the play not resulting in a red card or penalty kick.
The good and the bad
The good from this game is that Crew SC were down a goal in the second half and were able to battle back to get a point on the road. Hansen’s equalizer was important for a team that doesn’t need to be adding to the loss column at this time of the year.
The bad is that the Fire are the bottom team in the Eastern Conference, had lost eight consecutive MLS matches and seemed ripe for the picking for the Black & Gold. While a road tie is always a good thing in MLS, this is a game Crew SC will be disappointed with.
Bridgeview strikes again
There’s something about making the trip to Toyota Park for Crew SC. Columbus is 1-4-2 now in MLS play at the stadium under head coach Gregg Berhalter despite Chicago being a struggle franchise in recent years.
Once again, it was a weird situation that led to the goal, after a Steffen giveaway provided Nikolic with the goal he needed in a 1-0 win for the home side earlier this season.
Crew SC has lacked production from its wingers all season. A position that typically provides offense for the Black & Gold has done little to do so in 2018. On Thursday, Meram made his first start since returning to Columbus and played well. Santos looked good attacking and had a few shots. Hansen came off the bench was dynamic running at the defense before scoring the team’s goal.
If this group is going to make a run in the playoffs this year, these players need to be getting to another level before the end of the season.
The Black & Gold have nine days off before the team welcomes New York City FC to MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1. That match will kick off at 8 p.m. ET.