An all-too familiar defensive letdown led to an all-too familiar end of the season, as the Columbus Crew fell 1-0 at Colorado in a wild card knockout match in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Thursday night.
The Crew have not advanced past the first round in the playoffs since winning the MLS Cup in 2008.
“Nobody wants to lose, but we have to go forward and learn from this for next year,” said midfielder Tony Tchani, who made his Crew debut after missing three-and-a-half months because of a knee injury and surgery on Aug. 26.
“We had control of the game, we had the ball, we had the chances and we came close to scoring,” forward Andrés Mendoza said through a translator. “The other team only took advantage of one mistake and scored. We were superior. They came out just to run, and we came out to play soccer.
“They were dangerous and they have fast players, but that’s all they have.”
Tchani started for Emmanuel Ekpo, who received a red card in the regular season finale last week at Chicago, and head coach Robert Warzycha made another gamble when Danny O’Rourke – who also has battled through left knee problems and missed the Fire match – was scheduled to replace Kevin Burns in the first XI.
However, O'Rourke pulled himself out of the lineup just prior to the game and rookie Rich Balchan made the start.
"[O'Rourke] tried to go, but obviously after warmups he decided that it’s better that he didn’t play," Warzycha said. "We had to make adjustments and Rich Balchan had to step in and he did a very good job."
Also, midfielder Robbie Rogers got the nod over forward Emilio Rentería as the Crew went to a more conservative 4-5-1.
“We pressed for the goal, but to be honest, we didn’t create a lot of chances,” Warzycha said. “Colorado is a good team and they barely give you anything.”
The Crew managed only three shots, but one nearly countered the Rapids’ 45th-minute goal from Omar Cummings when Mendoza smacked the crossbar from 25 yards.
“It was unfortunate that we hit the crossbar with Mendoza’s shot,” Warzycha said. “You look at the game we played against them two months ago [a 2-0 loss], Brian Mullan takes the shot from the same spot and scores. That’s the game.”
The Crew were blanked for the eighth time on the road this year as an increasingly younger team had good stretches – they led the Eastern Conference for two months beginning in late July – but will be haunted by a dismal finish that cost them a chance at a bye into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It’s always better to play at home, there’s no question about it,” Warzycha said. “[The Rapids] didn’t have to travel. They stayed at home and it’s always tough to play here in Colorado, especially with the altitude. We knew that at the end of the game, we would have some tired legs, but I don’t think that happened.”
The Crew won only two of their final 10 matches, and the winning goal was a typical late-season breakdown that allowed the Rapids easy access into the final third.
From there, Mullan led Kosuke Kimura, who then spotted an unmarked Cummings for the winner just before halftime.
“It was one mistake again,” defender Julius James said. “It was very unfortunate. It was a really bad time to give up a goal. That’s not acceptable. We tried really hard, but it wasn’t enough.”