Photo by Tony Quinn/ISIphotos.com
By TRAVIS CLARK
The Columbus Crew left it till the very end, but managed to overcome a tough, ten-man D.C. United side and emerge as 2-1 winners in Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal.
Andy Iro forced home a late equalizer, and Columbus, up a man for 60 minutes, squeezed out a winner through a Guillermo Barros Schelotto penalty kick in extratime.
An early penalty by Pablo Hernandez was almost enough for a despondent D.C. club, and with the club just minutes away from a much-needed win, Iro rose to the occasion, smashing home a bouncing ball that deflected off of D.C. defender Marc Burch to force the extra 30 minutes.
"I mean, yeah, we had it," Coach Ben Olsen said after the game. "What do you want me to say? We had it, you know. In the end you got to finish it up."
As has been typical of United home performances, the home side came out on the front foot, threatening Andy Gruenebaum's net in the first 10 minutes. The Crew missed a golden chance to score first when Chad Marshall couldn't deposit a Scholotto free kick in the back of the net.
United answered with the opener just two minutes later. A Chad Marshall back passed was poorly cleared by Gruenebaum, and Hernandez went down in the box under an Iro challenge. The Argentine stepped up and deposited the ensuing spot kick to give United the lead.
From there, Columbus struggled to make much happen. Schelotto showed flashes when he got the ball, Steven Lenhart put in a typically busy shift up top, while Eddie Gaven raced down the flanks in an attempt to conjure up some offense.
Youngster Andy Najar was once again a live wire on United's flank — bombing forward, trying to find Hernandez and Danny Allsopp up top.
Columbus began to pick things up in the second half before Hernandez earned his marching orders after a heated encounter with Danny O'Rourke in the midfield, as the striker kicked out at the midfielder. The fourth official spotted the infraction and subsequently sent Hernandez off. Some members of D.C. thought they could make the lead stand up.
"We knew that they were going to push numbers [following the red card], and we were confident as a team, and I saw that confidence in other guys' eyes, and I thought we were ready for it," midfielder Clyde Simms said. "We kept the ball some and even created a chance or two, but unfortunately we gave up that late goal."
From there United bunkered down the hatches, in an attempt to secure the slim lead. They even managed to muster up a chance or two, thanks to Najar, but Gruenebaum answered the challenges.
Warzycha gambled by sending on Jason Garey for defender Gino Padula, and switched to a three-man back line. He then moved Iro up front in the game's dying minutes, getting a big body in the mix up top, ultimately setting up the equalizer.
After Iro bundled home, the Crew fell asleep on the restart. Najar darted in behind the defense, received a lovely dish from Devon McTavish, only to see his shot go wide of the post. With the score knotted at 1-1, it meant extratime. With the man advantage, it didn't take long for Columbus to grab a winner.
Late United substitute Carey Talley was the culprit, bundling over Lenhart during a scramble in United's box. Cool as you like, Schelotto beat youngster Bill Hamid to give Columbus the lead they would hang on to.
Veteran Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk was satisfied with the win.
"Coming to D.C. is never easy for us and, you know, it was one of those games when we all came together and battled and some guys stepped up and had some big games, and we fought hard and fought through and now we’re in a final," he said.
The two sides will meet again in a league match on Saturday, Sept. 4 at RFK Stadium.