By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – The Columbus Crew has won Major League Soccer's last two Supporters' Shields, and after trailing the league's pace-setter for much of the season, the Eastern Conference leaders are in prime position to try and claim that title for a third straight season.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto took advantage of Bill Hamid's 23rd-minute howler, scoring the only goal of Columbus' 1-0 victory over D.C. United in front of 12,075 Saturday night. The victory, coupled with the Los Angeles Galaxy's 1-1 draw in Chicago, pulled the Crew (13-5-5) even with the Galaxy for most points in MLS (44) ahead of their crucial showdown at the Home Depot Center next Saturday, when David Beckham is expected to make his return.
"To be able to catch (the Galaxy), they were quite a bit of ways ahead earlier on, so to be right there with them right down the stretch is important for us," said central defender Chad Marshall, who guided a defensive effort that didn't yield a D.C. shot on goal.
The Crew won for the second time in four days in Washington, after defeating United, 2-1, in extra time in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal. Saturday's match was more of the same: a physical, not-pretty display, with the Crew finding a way to come out on top via a Schelotto goal.
This goal was a bit more unconventional than his extra-time penalty kick on Wednesday, though.
The sequence began when Clyde Simms, pressed into playing centerback because of various injuries to United players, played a ball back to Hamid over the choppy, beaten-up pitch.
Hamid attempted to volley the pass from his left foot to his strong right foot so he could send a clearance down the field, but his cleat got somewhat stuck in the turf and he whiffed on his attempt to clear. An opportunistic Schelotto, who had been creeping closer to Hamid after the back-pass, pounced on the loose ball and slotted an easy shot into the vacated net.
"There's no excuse for that mistake on my part," Hamid said. "It shouldn't have been a goal, shouldn't have been a mistake. Maybe I could've one-timed it out. Who knows?"
United (4-16-3), which was shut out for a league-record-tying 15th time this season, had a few chances early on, with Danny Allsopp unable to convert off solid services from Santino Quaranta on the left and Andy Najar on the right in the 6th and 20th minutes, respectively.
Columbus, which was unable to link together a solid build-up throughout the duration of the match, capitalized on the one fortunate break that fell to Schelotto and walked out of RFK Stadium with the three points.
The goal was Schelotto's seventh of the season.
"The team was pressuring far up," Schelotto said. "I pressured too, and luckily I pressured to the point where I was able to take it away from the goalie and scored. After that, we controlled the game."
Schelotto, whose playing time has been monitored carefully when the Crew have multiple games in a week, played almost the whole match. After playing all 120 minutes on Wednesday, he was substituted for by newcomer Andres Mendoza at the onset of second-half stoppage time.
"We were not going to start any players that we'd think we'd take off at halftime or after 60 minutes," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. "We start players that can perform for 90 minutes. We have a week before the next game, and I think everybody's going to have enough rest."
That is vital for the Crew, who have a chance to pass the sputtering Galaxy and claim the pole position for the stretch run. Those two teams aren't alone at the top, though. After their respective victories on Saturday, Real Salt Lake is one point off the pace and FC Dallas is four behind, though the Red Stripes have a game in hand on the other three teams.
"We're not playing to catch L.A., we're playing to win," Warzycha said. "It doesn't matter if L.A's in front or D.C.'s in front, we just want to go and win the games."
Here are highlights from Columbus' victory in D.C.:
What did you think of the match? Who do you think will win next weekend in L.A.? Do you think the Crew's loaded schedule (CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup) will hamper their chances at winning the Supporters' Shield?
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