COLUMBUS, Ohio – Justin Meram was denied once by the referee. But he would not be stopped by Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy with the ball on his left foot and the match in the balance.
Meram, who entered in the 80th minute when Eddie Gaven suffered an injury, scored off a headed back-pass by Jairo Arrieta nine minutes later to give the Columbus Crew a critical 1-0 win over Chivas USA on Wednesday.
Afterward, Meram dedicated the goal to Crew rookie midfielder Kirk Urso, who died Aug. 5. The second-year forward from Michigan has been wearing a wrist band to commemorate his teammate.
“The referee made me take a band off and told me to put it in my sock,” Meram told the media afterward. “I put it in my sock, and funny, two minutes later I scored. My man Kirk, I love you to death, was with me tonight.”
Columbus (13-10-6, 45 points) broke a two-game losing streak and are 5-2-2 since resuming play following Urso’s death, moving into playoff contention.
Anything less than a win against a struggling Chivas squad (7-14-7, 28) that is now winless in eight could have been devastating. But thanks to Meram, the Crew sit in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and are a point back of fourth-place Houston.
It didn’t look good for the longest time until Tony Tchani, who entered in the 67th minute, slotted a pass through two defenders to an awaiting Federico Higuain on the left wing.
“I was trying to go toward the goal but it was kind of crowded and I saw Federico wide,” Tchani said. “I opened myself and he saw me.”
Higuain, who was limited to stoppage-time duty last Saturday at New York because of inflammation in his right foot, pronounced himself somewhat fit.
“It’s been better than the last couple of games but it’s still sore,” he said. “I need to keep working on the rehab and get rid of the pain as soon as possible.”
He was well enough to send a cross to Arrieta at the six-yard box. Arrieta got a foot on the ball as he went to the ground but Kennedy was there for the save.
The rebound went Arrieta and he picked himself up and managed to knock the ball to Meram.
“It was a good cross from Federico,” Arrieta said. “I tried to score. He made the save. I got up and tried to score. Luckily, the free ball went right to Justin and Justin did a great finish and gave us the three points.”
Meram ran onto the ball for his fourth goal of the season but first since May 23.
“I just wanted to connect it and I hit it with pace,” Meram said. “I didn’t want to place it and after that, I was fortunate it went in.”