COLUMBUS – There are times when a single play can define a match, and the one that gave New York a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Saturday was not the rebound winner headed in by Tim Cahill in the 80th minute.
The real decisive moment came eight minutes earlier, when the Crew's standout forward Federico Higuaín aimed for the left corner from the penalty spot and was denied on a diving save by Luis Robles.
Goodbye, three points. Goodbye, 12-game home unbeaten streak. Goodbye, Columbus.
"I'm very sad after the situation that could have given the Crew the win, but what's left out there is to keep working and try to keep improving," Higuaín said through a team translator.
Higuaín successfully converted a penalty against D.C. United in the previous match on April 27 by stutter-stepping before drilling the ball. He tried a similar move on Saturday, but Robles had studied the move on video in the course of preparing for the Crew.
"The one thing that helped was not necessarily the direction he went but that he takes a stutter step," Robles said, "because if I hadn't known that beforehand, maybe I would have really oversold myself too quickly."
Instead, Higuaín failed to score on a penalty for the first time in three tries in his short Crew career after Eddie Gaven drew the foul following a tackle by Brandon Barklage.
"I had the opportunity to convert that into a goal but just couldn't this time," Higuaín said.
The Crew (3-3-3) saw their 8-0-4 streak at Crew Stadium dating back to last season come to end because they also did nothing with 12 restarts.
But those opportunities paled compared to Higuain's miss.
"Every game seems like it's one play and it could go either way," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "We had that play with the PK. The penalty changed everything. If we would have scored the penalty we probably win the game."
Still, Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum likes the team's chances with Higuaín on the ball if the situation arises again.
"I'll take [Higuaín] on that any day, even with the miss," he said. "He'll be fine."