BRIDGEVIEW, IL – It’s official. Columbus Crew SC will not make the playoffs in 2016.
The Black and Gold played to a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Thursday. The home-standing Fire didn’t have much to play for considering their positioning at the bottom of the MLS standings. All they could do was spoil their rival’s fledgling postseason chances. With Crew SC needing a win, that’s exactly what they did.
Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter made a few changes to the side that beat Chicago 3-0 on October 1st. Wil Trapp returned to his familiar holding midfield role, while Nicolai Naess replaced Gaston Sauro in central defense. Chad Barson stepped in at right back for Harrison Afful. The 30-year-old suffered an injury while on national team duty for Ghana on Tuesday.
Berhalter decided to stay with Dilly Duka in the ten role and Adam Jahn up top. The former wasn’t much of a surprise with Federico Higuain still unable to go due to post-hernia surgery inflammation. But this game marked Jahn’s second straight start in place of Ola Kamara. It’s believed this may be designed to keep Kamara fresh for the final two games.
It’s a move that paid dividends early for the visitors. In the 13th minute, after winning possession in their defensive third, Columbus immediately hit Chicago on the counter. Justin Meram then found Jahn making an uncontested run down the right side. The Crew SC center forward took a few dribbles into the box and put the ball past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to put the Black and Gold up 1-0.
For Meram, it was his 11th assist on the season adding to a career high total.
The remainder of the half was largely uneventful. Both teams created just a single chance in the first 45, with Chicago owning a 3-2 edge in total shots. All three of their attempts at goal would go off target.
But the home side would come alive in the second half. Fire manager Veljko Paunovic made a halftime adjustment, bringing on center forward David Arshakyan for midfielder John Goossens. He also pulled Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac into a more withdrawn role on the flanks. So the 4-4-2 shape from the first half morphed into more of a 4-2-3-1 in the second.
His gambit paid off. Eight minutes into the second stanza, Arshakyan made a blistering run trying to find an Arturo Alvarez lob into the box. The pressure forced center back Michael Parkhurst into a horrendous error. The Crew SC defender, in attempting to clear, ended up knocking it over goalkeeper Steve Clark and into his own net.
Four minutes later in the 57th minute, the Fire would take the lead. With Crew SC clearly flustered after the Parkhurst own goal, the opportunities were certainly there for Chicago to get a go-ahead tally. And de Leeuw was the man to find it, taking advantage of some poor marking from Chad Barson to tap in a square ball from Alvarez.
But the Black and Gold wouldn’t give up. They continued to push for the two goals necessary to stay alive. In the 80th minute, that persistence would be rewarded with Jahn netting his second of the game and fourth since joining Crew SC from San Jose. Taking a cross from left back Corey Ashe who came in two minutes earlier, Jahn hit it on the full volley and beat Johnson near post to tie it.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. The single point obtained means that Crew SC is now six points behind the Philadelphia Union for sixth place. With Philly having three more wins, Columbus would lose the first tiebreaker even if they finished level on points. It’s a reason that heading into tonight’s game, Crew SC had a 0.5 percent chance of making the playoffs according to SportsClubStats.com.
Columbus becomes the fifth team in MLS history to miss the playoffs after appearing in MLS Cup the previous year. They join 2000 DC United (defending champions), 2004 Chicago Fire, 2005 Sporting Kansas City and 2009 New York Red Bulls to have achieved this dubious distinction.
The Black and Gold return to action on Sunday afteroon for the second of their three straight road games to close out the season. This one takes place in Harrison, NJ against the Red Bulls. Kickoff is set for 3 PM Eastern Time.
Photo courtesy of Columbus Crew SC Communications.