The Columbus Crew knew the team had a tough challenge against Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. That was proven in a wild 2-2 draw at historic Crew Stadium on Wednesday night.
Columbus trailed early, only to fight back in the second half and take the lead. But Rayados got one final chance in stoppage time and buried an equalizer in the final seconds of the match.
The Crew built a half-chance early on a direct ball over the top that the Monterrey defense defended, but forward Gyasi Zardes tracked down the loose ball. His pass found playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, but his shot from 18 yards out was scuffed and collected by goalkeeper Luis Cardenas in the seventh minute.
Monterrey struck back quickly through Ake Loba. The attacker played a one-two pass, taking the ball to the top of the Crew 18-yard box. Defender Aboubacar Keita slipped as he scrambled to cover and Loba fired a low shot into the far corner to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute.
The Black & Gold came back quickly, again through a direct ball, to winger Luis Diaz on the right. His tight-angled shot from distance blazed past the far post.
Columbus created another good chance in the 26th minute as left back Milton Valenzuela broke free on the left after winger Pedro Santos played him into space. Zelarayan made slight contact to his whipped cross before Diaz lunged at the ball and popped up his shot, ending the attack.
The Black & Gold again found success on the left as the home side forced a turnover in midfield. Santos broke into space and cut a pass back to Valenzuela driving into the 18-yard box. The defender made a quick cut centrally and uncorked a driven shot, forcing Cardenas to parry it over in the 29th minute.
Columbus, once again, created another golden chance to tie the game as the team broke the fierce Monterrey press and found Zelarayan on the right. His perfect cross reached Zardes in the box but the striker chipped his shot just wide as he collided with Cardenas. The Crew was left in search of the tying goal in the 34th minute.
Zelarayan was once again the creator of the Black & Gold’s next good look in the 41st minute. He clipped a perfectly weighted pass to the onrushing Diaz who collected the ball and tried to round Cardenas. Pushed wide, Diaz tried to set his shot but scuffed it on the wet turf.
The attacking play slowed down to start the second half as both teams traded the occasional wayward shot in the first 15 minutes after halftime. The Crew’s attacking flow dissipated as Monterrey’s concerted press forced Columbus into errant passes or direct attacks that sputtered in the teeth of a stalwart rearguard.
A breakthrough came from a moment of magic from Zelarayan. After a miscommunication and an errant pass into the box, the Argentine broke and saved the ball on the end line, outmuscling for the ball and cutting past the collapsing defense. He pushed a pass through the box and Valenzuela powered home the equalizer in the 65th minute.
Columbus appeared to grab the goal ahead goal in the 71st minute off a set piece routine. Zelarayan bent a ball away from the six-yard box and center back Josh Willams headed the ball across. Second half substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips nodded the ball home from a yard out. The goal went to Video Assistant Reveiw and was waved off after an offside call on Williams.
The Crew continued to press the attack after not getting the goal. Williams rang the crossbar in the 75th minute and the defense intervened before Artur could poke home the second chance attempt. A moment later, Wright-Phillips took a cross and made a quick turn shot on goal, forcing a save.
Columbus did eventually take the lead in the 87th minute. Zelarayan put the final touch on a move where Santos slipped the ball into fullback Harrison Afful on an overlapping run into the box. The cross found the Argentine playmaker in traffic but his clipped shot parted the Monterrey defense and found the far side of the net.
Rayados pushed for an equalizer and the Crew defense struggled with the onslaught. The home side gave up a tying goal in the third minute of stoppage time as José Alvarado powered home a free header from inside six yards.
The brilliant comeback was undone as the game got stretched in the final minutes.
Big Game Lucas
Zelarayan took the armband and led the Crew to a comeback on the evening. He wasn’t overawed by the competition given his history in Mexico, playing for Monterrey’s rivals, Tigres prior to coming to Columbus. Instead, Zelarayan mixed it up, early and often, coming for the ball in traffic and fighting on the counter-press. The goal came through his individual effort and he created the goal that was called back through a brilliant set piece. His goal in traffic with time winding down was a pure clutch moment.
The Argentine won’t be available for the second leg in Guadalupe as his yellow card on the night is his second of the tournament resulting in a one-game suspension. The Crew will be hard-pressed to replace Zelarayan’s guile and craft as the team heads into the second leg tied.
Both teams came into the game looking forward to making a statement physically. Keita collided with Monterrey players twice in the opening moments as he challenged for the ball. Zelayaran picked up an early yellow card. The light rain falling throughout the first half made the game even choppier as both sides struggled with traction and touch in the wet weather.
Tensions escalated as the Costa Rican referee kept his cards in his pocket most of the night, only giving the first half yellow to Zelarayan and a yellow card to Zardes and Adrian Mora for a second half shoving match.
The Crew travel to Montreal at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday for a return to MLS play. The second leg in the Champions League against Monterrey looms next Wednesday, May 5th at 8 pm E.T.