It was a beautiful day in Central Ohio for a celebration of Hispanic heritage and play some soccer. That’s exactly what the Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers did on Sunday, in a rare 1 p.m. ET matchup. The Black & Gold had a win with seconds left. Then, Portland clawed out a goal, drawing 1-1 as Columbus fights to hang onto a spot in the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs.
The Black & Gold had a Hispanic Heritage Celebration for the day, with former communication team manager Carlos Mojica sharing all public addresses in English and Spanish. Before the match, although not Hispanic, the Crew also honored a new neighbor with the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets when new signing Johnny Gaudreau exchanged jerseys with forward Cucho Hernández.
After the festivities were through, it was time for some soccer. The Black & Gold were without their captain, with midfielder Darlington Nagbe taking the armband against his former club. Another absence, although not for injury, was midfielder Artur and winger Derrick Etienne Jr., with Crew head coach Caleb Porter opting for Aidan Morris and Kevin Molino in their places.
Within the first three minutes, Columbus almost went ahead. Hernández received a pass charging into the penalty area, and cleared his defender, setting up a one-on-one against Portland goalkeeper Alijaz Ivacic. Instead of going to a post, Hernández opted for a chip that went over the crossbar, from close range.
By the end of the half though, the Black & Gold made up for it, but not without some physical play on both sides of the ball.
Entering Sunday, Portland led the entire league with yellow card fouls, which the Crew celebrated by handing out “yellow cards” to supporters, which were yellow sheets of paper. Supporters needed them too, with 14 first half fouls, with the Timbers tacking up nine of them.
In the 12th minute, Crew winger Luis Díaz was on the receiving end of some tough play by Portland veteran midfielder Diego Chara. No foul was called, but Díaz required attention and hobbled off the field, although he returned quickly following leaving the field of play.
The fouls were mostly in the middle of the field, and only led to one dangerous free kick, with Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayán going to goal but not challenging Ivacic.
While Columbus earned their yellow card quickly, with Morris going late on a tackle in the 10th minute, Portland earned theirs closer to halftime. The first came on Yimmi Chara on the Crew’s Miloš Degenek. Going up for a ball in the Crew’s defensive penalty area, Chara made contact with Degenek’s face.
Before Portland’s second caution, the Crew put a goal on the board.
For much of the half, the Crew put themselves into good positions, but the final pass was off. That changed in the 37th minute with Zelarayán finding Molino who perfectly timed a run into the penalty area, slotting a shot past Ivacic to put Columbus up 1-0.
With only three minutes of stoppage time in the first half, the Timbers were introduced to winger Luis Díaz formally. The speedy forward saved a ball from going out of play for a throw and charged down the field. Center back Bill Tuiloma ran in and checked Díaz down to the ground after Díaz received plenty of first half attention.
Columbus went into the half up a goal, with 45 minutes to hold on for an all-important victory.
The Crew entered the second half with the momentum, but Portland adjusted, adding more in the attack, and started to create problems for Columbus. Included in it were four saves by goalkeeper Eloy Room.
In the 58th minute, it began with Chara receiving a chance from close range, right in front of the goalkeeper close. Then, on the subsequent corner, Room made a diving save to keep it level. Then on two more subsequent corners he tipped away two balls headed towards the goal line.
Porter’s side survived the pressure and went on the offensive themselves, with even a question of a potential penalty for the home team. In the 73rd minute, off a corner, Hernández leapt for a header but missed. The ball landed at the feet of veteran defender Josh Williams who took his shot. During his shot, midfielder Eryk Williamson took the center back out from behind. No penalty was called and it didn’t look like enough to warrant a review for a clear and obvious miss, as Williams’ shot attempt was most likely finished by the time the contact came into play.
With 10 minutes remaining, Columbus looked to hang on, but almost added a second goal, courtesy of Etienne, coming in off the bench. Hernández passed forward to the Haitian international who shot across the front of goal and put it into the back of the net.
As the stadium celebrated, it was waved off for Etienne being in an offside position. Upon further review, the winger looked more onside than when he was ruled on against FC Cincinnati weeks back. No review could help Columbus this time, leaving the Crew with a one-goal lead to protect.
Unfortunately for the Crew, they weren’t able to do just that. With the defense closing, Santiano Moreno unleashed a shot from outside of the penalty area, giving Portland a road point gift.
Just when the Crew thought they had three points at home, Portland charged back in the final minute of stoppage.
It’s another match where Columbus was ahead and lost points. With the draw, a win for Inter Miami CF on Sunday night against D.C. United would put Columbus out of a playoff spot with three matches remaining.
A clear boost in the Crew attack was the return of Santos at fullback. The winger turned defender, who’s a more natural attacker than rookie Will Sands, push Columbus forward often throughout the match.
Santos did have some passes timed off from his teammates, but that’s to be expected for someone coming back from a few weeks off due to injury. The Crew needed more offense from the sideline and Santos delivered.
The Crew is off until Oct. 1, due to the FIFA international window. When the Black & Gold return, it’s for a home match with more playoff implications, with the New York Red Bulls at Lower.com Field.
New York is fighting to keep a top four spot, earning themselves a home playoff match.