COLUMBUS, Ohio – Call it good fortune, karma or some collective internal switch that turns on as time winds down.
Whatever the source, the Columbus Crew continue to live on the edge with their series of pulsating finishes that have kept them in the playoff hunt.
Eddie Gaven’s goal in the 91st minute to tie Sporting Kansas City 1-1 on Sunday was the latest example of securing points at the precipice, adding to their past five wins coming in the 86th minute or later.
“We give up that first goal then we start playing pretty well,” Gaven told MLSsoccer.com afterward. “That’s what actually happened. It would be nice if we can come out stronger and not have such a nervous last half-hour.
“At the same time,” he added, “we’ll take goals any time they come.”
That begs the question whether the Crew’s flair for the dramatic is a positive from the standpoint of their spirit, or a negative in that they’ve been unable to put teams away.
“It’s a good thing. We fight to the end,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “I’m sure some people view it as a little bit of luck. Look at San Jose. They’re in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield.”
While it’s true Columbus' recent remarkable run of late goals is similar to what the Earthquakes have been doing all season, there is a major difference: San Jose have parlayed that success into the most points in the league. The Crew are struggling to make the playoffs.
“It was a great result for us tonight, but unfortunately, we’re running out of time,” Gruenebaum said.
Columbus (14-11-7, 49 points) trail Houston by one point for the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. New York are fourth at 53 and D.C. United sit in third at 54 with two games left. The Crew play at D.C. on Oct. 20 and end with Toronto FC on Oct. 28.
“We have to win our games and hope for the best,” head coach Robert Warzycha said.
The irony is the Crew are in a precarious position because they were hurt earlier in the season by allowing late goals, especially in the two games against Houston. The Dynamo scored in the 81st minute to tie the first one and in the 82nd to draw in the rematch.
If Columbus had been able to hold on in each meeting, they’d have 53 points compared to Houston’s 48.
Also, San Jose got the equalizer in the 90th minute against the Crew on May 19 and Montreal scored the winner in the 89th minute on July 8.
“That shows the importance of those early games,” Gruenebaum said. “You don’t think about it at the time, but back then, if a game slips away from you or you take advantage of it, it all comes into play now.”