The final match of the MLS regular season came with a lot of weight. For the Columbus Crew and Orlando City SC, the final match day meant everything. The Black & Gold entered the game needing a draw or win to move into the postseason, but couldn’t get it done away from home, losing 2-1.
Columbus and Orlando each started the match with their fair share of possession, but overall, it was a match that felt like a cup final with small mistakes and a disjointed feel. Both teams felt the pressure of the moment.
Orlando earned the first shot on target of the match in the 11th minute, with attacking midfielder Junior Urso taking a chance from the top of the box. Fortunately for the away side, it went directly to goalkeeper Eloy Room who wasn’t challenged in the first 45.
When Orlando was challenging, it was through winger Ivan Angulo. The Colombian on multiple occasions broke down fullback Steven Moreira, but it was his teammates who failed to run up on offense or find space for the winger to have an outlet. Instead, it was Columbus who controlled the narrative offensively.
The Black & Gold had three shots on goal in the half and seven shots overall. For the first 30 minutes though, the final passes either found an Orlando defender or goalkeeper Pedro Gallese made saves.
In the 14th minute, it was forward Cucho Hernández, who’s scored only once in the last seven matches, who almost put the Crew up early. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. sent a cross, one of Columbus’ five of the half, to Hernández who made a leaping header attempt that brushed the top of the crossbar.
It was Columbus who got onto the scoreboard in the first half, with Etienne putting the Black & Gold up. In the 37th minute, midfielder Lucas Zelarayán received a long pass from fullback Pedro Santos. Upon receiving the pass, Zelarayán used a backheel pass at the top of the box to send the Haitian international alone on goal. Etienne sent in his shot, scored the goal but then was sent to ground after a trip by Ruan in the box. Etienne left the match for Kevin Molino moments later.
Elsewhere, Hernández definitely looked like a player who was trying to stop a cold streak of scoring. The forward was all over the field, letting his teammates know when they were lacking or in the wrong spaces and taking multiple shots on goal. Hernández added two more shots on goal and four total shots in the first 45, the second causing a diving save by Gallese and the third going right to the keeper.
Columbus entered halftime up 1-0, but the Crew broke the MLS record for most match-winning goals allowed in second half stoppage. They would have to hold on 45 more minutes to hold onto any victory, but still needing only a draw to move on.
To start the second half, it didn’t look like Orlando initially felt the pressure. That wouldn’t last. After a shot by defender Joao Moutinho went wide, and two minutes later Orlando would put one on target, past Room.
In the 56th, it was attacking midfielder Junior Urso who put Orlando level. With Mensah stepping up to try and make a tackle at the top of the box, Urso made a quick turn to shoot gently past Room into the back of the net. Columbus went level 1-1 with most of the second half remaining.
It was a hot day, in the mid-80s on the thermostat on Sunday, and it showed. On the Crew’s side it was fullback Steven Moreira. On a clearance, the Frenchman came up limping. Then, in the 71st minute left the match for Mo Farsi after coming up limping on another stop.
Entering the water break, it was still knotted at 1-1. Coming out of the mandated hydration period, Columbus almost gave the match away one minute and then did the next.
In the 80th, the ball went out but looked like substitute Mo Farsi was tackled beforehand. As Orlando continued the play, throwing in the ball, Columbus players stood around looking like they were waiting for a free kick. Instead, the home side shot on goal with Room making a point blank save. The save only stalled what happened next.
With 10 minutes of regular time remaining, Orlando got a chance inside the penalty area, on the shot though center back Miloš Degenek had his hand in the air on a deflection. After the referee checked the monitor, a penalty was awarded to Orlando. Facundo Torres buried it past a diving Room to put Orlando up a goal.
The action wouldn’t end there. While no more goals were scored, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Columbus sent men forward, brought on forward Erik Hurtado and threw all they could at the home team but couldn’t break the goal line. Orlando held on, despite referee issues with substitutions, Columbus shots on goal and appropriately enough, the Crew’s season ended with a blown lead.
Hernández forces it
All match it was clear that Hernández wanted to be the hero. The Colombian international took any ball he could get near the penalty area and sent it towards net. He accounted for most of the Crew’s shots on the day but couldn’t convert an assist or a goal.
It was a disappointing end to a half-season of promise for Columbus’ big offseason summer signing.
Etienne comes up big
For the second match in a week, Etienne comes up big when Columbus needed them. After two goals getting the Crew a win against the New York Red Bulls, he put in a 40-minute starting shift and a goal to put the away side up.
Unfortunately for Etienne, his match ended with a right leg injury, replaced by former Orlando City USL star Kevin Molino. There are now questions on if Etienne returns to the team, with a contract reportedly ending with the end of this season.
Well, the offseason is next. The Crew now have all offseason to think about what went wrong and how to fix it. It’s a mode where decisions are likely to be made across the board. Time will tell what the Black & Gold look like next season in terms of players, tactics and coaching.