Unhappy ending: Crew let lead slip, playoffs out of reach

Eddie Gaven had a good vibe when he scored his career-high ninth goal just seven minutes into Saturday night’s match at RFK Stadium, a goal that staked the Columbus Crew to a lead with their playoff lives on the line.

“I thought it was going to be our night after we went up 1-0 early,” Gaven said.

Turns out he should have known better.

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Not only wasn’t it the Crew’s night, it’s not their season, as the 3-2 loss to D.C. United, coupled with Houston’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, eliminated Columbus from the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

“It hurts anytime you put your heart and soul into it all season and not come away with the playoffs,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview.

Gaven’s goal marked the third straight road game the Crew (14-12-7) has gone ahead before the 10th minute, and somehow they’ve lost all three to skid to a 2-4-1 mark in their past seven matches.

After the loss, Coach Robert Warzycha revisited his warning following a 2-0 defeat to New England on Sept. 5, the game that started the slide.

“I’ve said before that if we give up two goals a game, we’re not going to make the playoffs,” he said by phone. “That’s not possible.”

The Crew has allowed at least two goals five times in the past seven games.

“I’m disappointed,” Warzycha said. “We found ways to get two goals. That should have been good enough. We probably deserved a better result.”

D.C. (17-10-6) got the equalizer from Nick DeLeon in the 39th minute before the Crew’s Jairo Arrieta made it 2-1 two minutes later with his ninth goal in 17 games.

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“We played pretty well in the first half, went into halftime with a 2-1 lead, feeling pretty good about the way we were playing,” Gaven said. “Things broke down in the second half.”

Marcelo Saragosa drew D.C. level in the 59th minute and shortly thereafter Houston took a lead in its match, meaning the Crew needed to get three points to carry their playoff hopes into the season finale Oct. 28 vs. Toronto.

Pressing for a score, the Crew were caught on a counterattack and Lewis Neal got the winner in the 91st minute, forcing Columbus to look ahead to 2013 earlier than they had hoped.

“We were pushing for the win and when you’re desperate, you leave yourself open in the back,” Gruenebaum said. “That’s what happened. We needed to win. Anything less wouldn’t have mattered.”