COLUMBUS, Ohio – Offside or not, the Columbus Crew’s late dramatics continued Saturday at Crew Stadium and so does the club's pursuit of a playoff spot.
The controversy surrounds Columbus midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, who was positioned just behind a wall of Philadelphia Union players to take an excuse-me pass from teammate Josh Williams and slot home the decisive goal in the 87th minute for a 3-2 victory after blowing a two-goal lead.
Mirosevic’s goal came a minute after Philadelphia sub Jack McInerney stunned the crowd of 14,677 with an equalizer.
“Maybe if the game finishes like that, we’re out of the playoffs already,” Mirosevic said after the match. “We have to be more careful.”
Instead, the Crew (14-11-6, 48 points) remain just one point behind Houston for the fifth and final Eastern Conference berth with three matches remaining.
But once again it the three points on Saturday didn't come easy. Columbus' past five wins have been decided in the 86th minute or later.
“I’d rather win 4-0 and then we can relax,” Williams said.
But the Crew couldn’t hold on to a first-half brace by forward Jairo Arrieta, who has eight goals in 15 games. A Danny Cruz penalty and McInerney's strike leveled the score, setting up Mirosevic's decisive tally.
"I stood back out of the play and I saw a foot – I think Josh’s foot," Mirosevic said. "And the next moment the ball was on my foot. I gave it one-touch, then I kicked it.”
Williams offered his take: “I told Milo I picked him out of the crowd, but I was just joking. It was more of a hustle play, trying to make something happen.”
Replays showed that Mirosevic was offside just prior to Williams’ pass.
“I don’t know,” Mirosevic said when asked if he was offside. “You tell me, because from where I was, I didn’t have enough time to look at the line and then receive the ball. I just received the ball and kicked it.”
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Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha didn’t offer an opinion other than to say he was happy to get the goal.
“[That play] was more desperate, because we needed to push players as far as we can,” he said. “We need to push for the goal."
And as usually happens in the final five minutes – at least of late, the Crew got it.
Craig Merz covers the Columbus Crew for MLSsoccer.com