Crew SC rolled out their strongest lineup for the pivotal game off a full week of training. The Union were playing their fifth game in 15 days, including a crushing Open Cup loss on Wednesday. Nine of the eleven starters also started the cup loss. It was the Union that would come out stronger with two early shots and causing turnovers in the midfield with a press.
The Union would continue to cause problems through the first half and nearly went ahead in the 36th minute. Forward Cory Burke took down a long direct pass against Lalas Abubakar. As the Ghanaian turned, Burke pushed off, knocking the defender to the ground. As Burke went in on goal, Zack Steffen forced him wide. His shot was redirected into the net by Jonathan.
Referee Drew Fischer initially awarded the goal and drew protests from the Crew SC players. Gregg Berhalter gave his view to the assistant referee on the sideline. Fischer quickly went to Video Review after the signal from the video assistant. After a less than a minute, Fischer had seen enough to overturn the call and wave off the goal.
That would be the most momentous event of the first half and representative of how the game unfolded. Niether side was able to get into a rhythm, passing was ragged, and chances were hard to come by.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter looked to change the game in the second half with his substitutions. Josh Williams came on early in the second half for Abubakar, who struggled against Burke. Niko Hansen replaced Pedro Santos on the right. The last switch was Federico Higuain was lifted for Eduardo Sosa.
Columbus pushed the tempo and would get off five of their 11 shots in the last twenty minutes of the game. Gyasi Zardes redirected a cross from Justin Meram forcing an Andre Blake save in the 79th minute.
The best chance would come in the 90th minute when Harrison Afful would fire a shot from the right side of the box. He forced Blake into a full extension save to keep the home side off the board. Columbus wouldn’t be able create another chance as good in the remaining three minutes of stoppage time.
Crew SC is just a result away in Montreal from securing the playoffs. They had a chance to seal their playoff spot with a win against the Union. With D.C. United hammering the Impact 5-0, Columbus could have been in with a win. Berhalter had kept the focus off playoffs in the lead-up to the game preferring to keep the focus on the opponent. In his post game comments, Steffen saw it as a chance for motivation saying “I think it’s weird that we didn’t really talk about it at all this week. I think maybe if we talked about it we’d have a little more motivation to go out there and put the game to bed.” It was a rare (small) disagreement between player and coach.
Sending a message
When asked postgame about the substitutions, especially the early like for like sub of Williams for Lalas and then Sosa coming in for Higuain, Berhalter said he wanted more urgency from the team to push the game. They got it with nearly half the team’s shots coming in the final 20 minute stretch. The Union didn’t struggle with urgency, they played a very fierce and physical game just days after a big loss on the road. A tie at MAPFRE will feel like a win in the big picture. They remain within striking distance of Crew SC as the hapless on the road Minnesota United comes to town next week. Columbus has a trickier road game in Montreal ahead.
The tie moves Crew SC to 13-9-9 on the season with 48 points. They remain in fourth place, five points behind New York City FC in third and a point ahead of the Union in fifth. Next week Columbus has another chance to lock down a playoff spot as they travel to Montreal to take on the flagging Impact on Saturday at 3pm.