By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even though they were down to ten men, the Columbus Crew were rewarded for their persistence.
In a game filled with emotion and intensity that at one point boiled over in the Crew’s goalmouth, the Crew battled back thanks to a Hector Jimenez goal in the 90th minute to tie D.C. United, 1-1, on Saturday night at Crew Stadium. Jimenez’s goal canceled out Fabian Espindola’s first half blast that nearly gave D.C. United their third straight win.
“A result in that game was looking grim, and they were really tight and defensive oriented and we went down a man,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said following the match. “But the guys didn’t quit and I commend them on that. I said we have to get better, but that effort not to give up in that game and get something out of that game, to me, was spectacular.”
The Crew played the final nine minutes plus stoppage time of the match down to ten men after Bernardo Anor was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge.
The home team started out the brighter of the two sides, controlling possession and looking very comfortable when passing. However, some of their early tactics to find Dominic Oduro in space up top wasn’t working, and even when he did get the ball, too often he turned the ball over.
The match was played with plenty of intensity and emotion that featured plenty of heavy challenges that foreshadowed what was to come later.
Despite the lack of possession, D.C. took their first real chance of the game with aplomb. A turnover by Crew Designated Player Federico Higuain left Nick DeLeon with space to run into as he dribbled towards goal.
With Eddie Johnson to his right and Espindola to his left, DeLeon played Espindola into the box in the 31st minute and the veteran Argentine blasted a shot over Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark’s head into the roof of the net.
“I just saw the goalkeeper too close (to his line) so I went up (with my shot),” Espindola said.
From this point on, D.C. United stayed very compact defensively and were content to let the Crew possess the ball without many opportunities in the middle of the field.
“He had a great goal,” D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said. “Whether it’s him or somebody else, we have to do better with finishing teams off but Fabian is a special player. He is going to continue to make special plays for this team were still figuring him out and his teammates are still figuring him out but I am extremely happy we have him and once again tonight he proved to be the game changer.”
In the second half, the Crew had a few chances from crosses out wide, including a wonderful opportunity at the top of the six yard box in the 56th minute that Jimenez put wide.
Both teams’ emotions got the best of them in the 72nd minute after Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez pulled down Johnson on a breakaway just outside the box. The referee, Juan Guzman, took his time to make a decision and in the ensuing minutes, both teams began to scuffle inside the goal against the net.
Match officials quickly got the players under control but only issued a yellow card to Gonzalez and a free kick to D.C., which incensed the road players.
The match officials refused to answer questions from a pool reporter after the game based on a technicality.
The Crew, who could have gone down to ten men at that point, finally did in the 81st minute when Bernardo Anor was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge.
Though they were down a man, Crew substitutes Justin Meram and Jairo Arrieta looked strong after adjusting to the game’s rhythm and led the home side to plenty of attacking opportunities in the final minutes, but to no avail.
The game’s turning point came in the 90th minute, as Espindola had another chance to score his second of the game. Instead, Crew midfielder Wil Trapp ran back and made an outstanding tackle on Espindola to win the ball.
Trapp then dribbled forward and picked out Jimenez on the left side with a precise 50-yard pass. Jimenez too two dribbles, cut inside, and curled a great shot past the out-stretched arms of D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra to earn his team a point.
“Will was able to play a great ball to me, I was able to take a good touch inside. I saw a little gap in there and was able to luckily bend it in there and past the goalie,” Jimenez said. “What I liked the most was that our team didn’t back down. Even though we were down a man we still kept going forward and luckily we were able to get that goal and a point.”
Here are the match highlights: