In a game of inches and split-second decisions, the Columbus Crew came up short on both counts and lost 3-2 at Chicago in the regular-season finale on Saturday night. Now their playoff fate is in the hands — or the boots — of the Houston Dynamo.
A Dilly Duka shot that would have cut a 2-0 deficit going into the break instead hit the post and later after he tied the score in the 79th minute the Fire took advantage of lax defending for the winner by Diego Chaves two minutes later.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago 3, Columbus 2
“It wasn’t a letdown as much as we lost focus for two or three seconds,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said of the last Fire goal.
Crew coach Robert Warzycha was disappointed in the outcome but pleased with the second-half comeback.
“I can’t fault the guys,” he said. “They played hard. We tied the game and we were going for another goal. It was unfortunate they scored.”
The Crew (13-13-8, 47 points) will finish third in the Eastern Conference and host second-place Philadelphia in the first leg of the two-game aggregate series Oct. 30 if the Dynamo do not beat LA on Sunday. A Houston victory sends the Crew into a wild-card match either Wednesday or Thursday at Colorado.
“I don’t think I’m going to watch the [Houston] game,” midfielder Dilly Duka said.
The former Rutgers star tried to rally the Crew from a 2-0 deficit caused by goals from Fire defender Jalil Anibaba in the 11th and 30th minutes.
“They caught us by surprise,” Duka said.
Duka blasted an 18-yarder in the 43rd minute that would have altered Columbus’ outlook for the second half if it didn’t kiss the left post.
“It was just unlucky,” he said. “I thought it was going in and then we would have had some momentum going into halftime.”
The Crew knew at the break that Sporting Kansas City had just clinched the East with a 1-0 win vs. D.C. United but that they could still earn second place with three points. Gaven set up Emilio Rentería for a brilliant side volley in the 72nd minute before Duka got his second career goal after scoring last week against New England but the euphoria was short-lived as the Crew let the Fire score off a counterattack.
“If we didn’t give up a goal that quick I think we would have been able to come back and win,” Duka said.
Matters got worse in stoppage time when midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo was booked a second time for his tackle of Dominic Oduro and will miss the playoff game.
“[Ekpo] had to be smarter,” Warzycha said. “He’s big part of our team and we’re going to be short a player."