Andy Herron and Jeff Cunningham put on a real goalscorer's duel on Saturday night at Crew Stadium, each scoring twice in a wild second half as the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire played to a 3-3 tie.
The teams traded penalty kicks in the first half surrounding a red card to Chicago's Nate Jaqua, then twice after the break, Herron answered goals by Cunningham to ensure his club still had a little breathing room in the battle for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
The first goal by Cunningham gave the Crew the lead 11 minutes after halftime, but Herron tied the match only four minutes later with a highlight reel goal. Herron trapped a loose ball and hit a twisting shot from well outside the area into the corner of the goal.
"He put a great bender into the top corner. It went where we wanted it to -- unfortunately for us," said Columbus goalkeeper Jon Busch. "Those went in on me all the time last year at home."
Cunningham was credited with his second goal of the night and eighth of the season in the 64th minute. He struck the ball from an angle inside the penalty area and the ball ended up in the net after deflecting off Fire defender Jim Curtin who was occupied with a slashing Frankie Hejduk in the goalmouth.
"Simon (Elliott) played a great ball. The entire team had shifted on the other side and left me wide open," said Cunningham, who had not scored since July 3. "I didn't strike it as well as I would have liked, but I think it had a chance to go in. I am happy that goal was awarded to me because I needed it."
Said Hejduk: "Tons of goals are off deflections in games and I think that was a deflection. I think Jeff (Cunningham) should be credited for the goal for sure."
Although Crew coach Greg Andrulis thought Cunningham played a quality game, he believes that his team can do a better job incorporating him into the run of play.
"I thought he did well. Setting up the third goal was huge. We need to do a better job linking him. I don't know if we gave him enough touches," Andrulis said.
With player and goal advantages, it looked likely that the Crew would win their fifth straight game, but Herron worked another bit of magic to force the tie. Herron accepted a header from Curtin only to juggle it over a defender and put Busch in a sticky situation.
"He (Andy Herron) popped it over somebody. It is tough to say how you want to play that as a goalkeeper," said Busch. "If you hold your line, he is volleying the ball from eight yards out. Plenty of times, I have been close enough so they kick to right into my arms, but he was quick enough to get it over my arms tonight."
Fire coach Dave Sarachan was impressed with Herron's ability to keep the Fire in the match, but is bothered that he will miss the Wednesday match between the teams at Soldier Field.
"The guy (Andy Herron) is a real forward. He came through for us tonight. We are obviously pleased to have him. He goes to Costa Rica next week so the timing is not good. He has been great in the games he has played for us," Sarachan said.
Sarachan also loved his squad's toughness that allowed them to twice fight back from deficits in the second half despite playing a man down.
"I am very proud of my team to come away from the diversity we went through tonight. All year long, we have been a victim of tough stretches," said the Chicago coach. "Through it all, we have worked and competed and tonight it paid off. It was a true testament to this group. They are fighters and don't go down without swinging."
While Sarachan nearly equated tie with victory, Andrulis linked the tie more with a defeat. The Crew did not look their best in the back and it showed as they gave up three goals.
"I am sorry that we couldn't get it done at home in front of a great crowd," said Andrulis. "I thought the guys played hard and were determined."
Said Busch: "The whole night defensively, we didn't look sharp. We put ourselves in bad positions. We had the lead twice and we are a much better team at killing games than we showed tonight."
Andrulis partially blamed defensive miscues and attributed the rest to individual brilliance by Herron: "You have to give Andy Herron credit. Their second goal, his first, was a terrific goal and the third goal we made a couple mistakes."
The Black-and-Gold coach knows bad games come occasionally and cannot wait to their next game to prove that this game was just a fluke.
"I think the last time we gave up three goals was the first game of the season. If we can go 29 games between giving up three goals, I don't think that is too bad. We'll get the boots laced up and get after them on Wednesday," Andrulis said.
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Soccer or its clubs.