Living on the edge can be exhilarating but also deflating if the results don’t turn out as desired.
The Columbus Crew have experienced plenty of the former by scoring a game-winning goal in the 86th minute or later four times since Aug. 25. With that history as a foundation, the Crew never panicked Saturday at Chicago even as they trailed 2-1 with the clock winding down.
“The way we were playing the second half I thought for sure we’d equalize,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match.
It wasn’t to be this time, however, as the defeat put a crimp in the Crew’s playoff aspirations.
The outcome was something that coach Robert Warzycha feared in an interview with MLSsoccer.com the day prior to the match.
“We have to put ourselves in a situation where we don’t have to score a goal at the end to get a result,” he said. “Sometimes the game won’t go your way.”
His wish wasn’t granted because a first-half brace by Chris Rolfe cancelled out Jairo Arrieta’s early goal, forcing the Crew to seek late magic yet again.
And despite numerous opportunities over the final 15 minutes, Columbus came away empty-handed – both on the score sheet and in the standings.
“We fight to the end, but we can’t score [late] every single game,” defender Josh Williams said.
Postseason in the balance
The Crew (13-11-6, 45 points) have never missed the playoffs in a season when they’ve had a winning record, but it’s going to take some work this time around because D.C. United and New York are tied for third at 50 points while Houston (46) occupy the final Eastern Conference postseason spot.
The good news is Columbus have three of the final four at home plus a match at D.C. United in their penultimate game. The bad news is that the defense hasn’t be particularly stingy of late, a clear issue according to Warzycha.
“The big thing is we’re allowing the other team to score two or three goals,” he said. “If we continue to do that, we’re not going to be in the playoffs.”
No, that was not a mirage: High-profile offseason acquisition Olman Vargas was on the field for the final nine minutes Saturday in his first appearance in 13 matches.
The forward’s absence from the lineup had nothing to do with injuries, as he clearly fell out of favor with Warzycha, especially after the midseason arrivals of Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín.
Vargas’ last appearance before Saturday night was on July 14, a 10-minute stint against Sporting Kansas City. The last of his seven starts was May 19 vs. San Jose. His lone goal came in the second game of the season on March 24.
While Vargas did not do much against the Fire, it wasn’t entirely his fault.
“We didn’t utilize him like we’re supposed to,” Warzycha said. “The idea was to get him on the field and the guys on the wings get some crosses in. They didn’t.”