While the Columbus Crew did enough to beat Chicago Fire FC 2-0 at Lower.com Field on Sunday afternoon, getting a first-half goal from Lucas Zelarayan and a second-half goal from Miguel Berry, they couldn't get the combination of results and goal differential makeup they needed to work their way into one of the Eastern Conference's seven Audi MLS Cup Playoff places.
That means that the current MLS Cup winners won't get to defend their title in the playoffs, guaranteeing the most recent back-to-back winners remain the 2011 and 2012 LA Galaxy.
Though the Fire put pressure on the hosts early, with Alvaro Medran and Chinonso Offor getting some early attempts in to test Eloy Room, Zelarayan showed his mettle as well. In the 31st minute, he opened the scoring by taking a pass from Derrick Etienne Jr. and doing what he'd done at points throughout the half – running into the box directly at Fire defenders and getting a shot on frame.
The Crew kept the momentum going into first-half stoppage time, with Zelarayan nearly getting a second on a Pedro Santos assist to close out what would be a solid half under normal circumstances. But the Crew were under extraordinary circumstances to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In the 58th minute, Berry went one-on-one with 17-year-old Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, and Slonina initially got the better of the matchup by making the save. But then Berry put back the rebound, and while it initially appeared to some naked eyes that a Fire defender had cleared it off the line, Video Review confirmed that it crossed before it was whipped back out.
Darlington Nagbe, Luis Diaz and Josh Williams all had prime chances late in the match to work on the eight-goal differential separating Columbus from the New York Red Bulls – one of the pieces in the Crew's complicated playoff equation – but ultimately could only muster the pair of goals in their final match of 2021.
- THE BIG PICTURE: For Columbus, picked by many during preseason as a favorite to repeat as MLS Cup winners, it’s a shock that they didn’t even make the playoffs, though the long-shot parameters to advance on Decision Day allowed fans to prepare for the absence. For the Fire, it looks like it’s going to be a year of rebuilding with a new coach and a new logo. They've been eliminated from postseason contention for a couple of weeks.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The first goal involved a beautiful pass to Zelarayan and then a whole lot of Zelarayan.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Zelarayan, last year’s MLS Cup MVP, put in a fine performance and gave Crew fans something to look forward to in 2022.
- CLB: End of season
- CHI: End of season