The Columbus Crew needed a win to keep their season going tonight. They got it in an emphatic 3-1 win against D.C. United at Audi Field. Behind two Lucas Zelarayan goals and a Pedro Santos breakaway, the Black & Gold took all three points and go into the next week with playoff hope.
United opened the scoring early with a beautiful ball over the top of the defense by Felipe from midfield. Paul Arriola ran into space, outrunning Josh Williams into the penalty area. He took a first time left footed shot off the bounce past Eloy Room and into the side netting to give the home side a 3rd minute 1-0 lead.
After the goal, Columbus probed forward, but struggled to test the United defense. The only shot that the Crew could get off was a Zelarayan shot from distance that blazed well above the crossbar.
The Crew created a moment of danger and a flicker of hope in the 22nd minute as Pedro Santos broke free into the penalty area after taking a pass from Derrick Etienne. Santos drove a low right footed shot that forced a diving save from Bill Hamid stymie the Crew attack.
The game opened up as the Crew found space to counter. In the 33rd minute Zelarayan played a driving pass well behind the D.C. backline deep into the left channel. Miguel Berry tracked down the pass and found himself alone in the far side penalty area. Without help coming, Berry fired a tight angle shot that forced another Hamid save.
The Crew had another great counterattacking chance in the 39th minute. After recovering a United possession, Columbus pushed ahead through Zelarayan. Pinned on the left touchline, he unleashed a 50 yard pass to the opposite side to find Etienne in space. He took a touch and put his 15 yard shot well high, failing to put a great chance on frame.
The best chance for Columbus came late in the half. Tony Alfaro came in late on a tackle on Zelarayan and brought down the Armenian international. Referee Drew Fischer quickly pointed to the spot, a call that didn’t even require a video review. Zelarayan took the penalty, ran up with a stutter-step, and drove a right footed shot into the left corner, tying the game in the 45th minute.
The Crew kept the momentum after the halftime break. After Etienne was fouled 35 yards from goal, Zelarayan bent in a looping free kick that Liam Fraser headed at the United goal. Hamid parried the shot to keep the game level in the 46th minute.
After a scramble in the Crew box, Berry tracked down the long outlet and found free space in the D.C. half. With the United defense collapsing on him, he back heeled to Santos following the play. The Portuguese winger drove a one time shot from 35 yards off the cross bar.
The end to end action continued in the 52nd as the hosts broke the Crew lines with ease. Arriola took a ball in space and quickly turned, finding Ola Kamara in the box with Williams chasing. The former Crew man put his close range shot wide.
Minutes later, the Crew had a prime chance to go up as Santos broke forward and switched to Etienne on the right. The winger dropped a pass into the box for Berry who cut a shot forcing an athletic kick save from Hamid to keep the game tied at 1-1.
The Crew got the earned breakthrough lead in the 66th minute. In another transition, Nagbe carried the ball towards midfield and slipped forward towards Santos on the left. United defender Andy Najar shifted to try and intercept, but the ball slipped by. Santos dribbled into the box on the breakaway and chipped Hamid to give Columbus the 2-1 lead.
United pushed forward, but often rushing the attack. The Crew defense was only tested by a Ramón Abila shot from a hard angle off a Najar feed. Eloy Room parried the ball to keep the 2-1 lead.
Zelarayan punctuated the comeback in the 76th minute. Berry intercepted a Donovan Pines pass, took a touch, and dropped a soft pass to Zelarayan. His shot from 24 yards curled past Hamid and into the back of the net, making it 3-1.
The goal broke United’s spirit. They struggled to pressure the Crew defensively for the final 15 minutes of the game, only getting an off target Jordy Reyna shot off in the direction of the Columbus goal as the Black & Gold saw out a vital win.
Big Game Zelarayan
With the Crew facing a must win elimination game, Zelarayan once again came up with a big performance to pull Columbus to the cusp of the playoffs. In the first half, Zelarayan pulled the strings as the Crew looked for an equalizer much of the half. He played several balls to unleash the transition attack. He also made the darting move into the box that forced the foul by Alfaro, then he converted the penalty.
He put his stamp on the second half as well. He again led several transition moves as Columbus looked to take the lead with the game tied then emphatically sealed the win with a thunderbolt of a goal to give the team a two goal cushion for the final 15 minutes. When the Crew needed a performance, Zelarayan delivered.
The Crew’s playoff odds are still long, but they got shorter tonight. With the 3-1 win, Columbus moved to 12-13-8 and 44 points on the year. They are currently in 9th place and are level with D.C. United and two points behind the New York Red Bulls and the red line.
The Black & Gold have a single game left on the schedule, home against Chicago. All roads to the playoff start with the Crew winning that game. New York plays twice, they host Atlanta on Wednesday and visit Nashville on Sunday. With Red Bulls 13 wins and +6 goal differential, the Crew have to hope New York goes winless next week to pass them.
Atlanta and Orlando are at 47 points, 3 ahead of the Crew. Columbus can pass Atlanta if they go winless next week based on ATL’s 12 wins. Likewise, they can also pass Orlando if they go winless and the Crew win by two over the Fire. The math is there, but a lot has to go the Black & Gold’s way.
One game left for the 2021 regular season. The Crew host the Chicago Fire at Lower.com Field at 3:30 pm. The game will be played at the same time as all other Eastern Conference games as part of MLS Decision Day.