Photo by John Gellebter/USA TODAY Sports
By DAN KARELL
Jairo Arrieta went nearly five months between goals scored this season, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to break his goal drought on Saturday night.
In improbable fashion, the Columbus Crew battled back from two goals down to defeat the Philadelphia Union, 3-2, on the road, with Arrieta scoring the game-winning-goal with less than ten minutes remaining. The result knocked the Union from playoff contention, with two games to go.
Meanwhile, the Crew are on the precipice of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2011, as they have 46 points and sit securely in fifth place, one point behind the fourth place New York Red Bulls who the Crew face next week.
From the opening minute of play, the Union looked the team more likely to score. The Union had their first chance of the match after only 55 seconds, as Sebastien Le Toux took advantage of a turnover in the Crew’s defensive third and crossed the ball to teammate Andrew Wenger. Wenger though put his 18-yard header just wide of the far post.
Wenger followed that attempt up in the 13th minute with a close-range shot that was saved by Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark and in the 22nd minute both Wenger and forward Conor Casey whiffed on a cross through the six-yard box.
After a scoreless first half, the Crew’s Justin Meram came inches away from putting the Crew first on the board when he fired a loose ball off a corner from outside the box that slammed off the crossbar.
In the 68th minute, the Union finally broke the deadlock with a defensive mishap from the Crew and quick reflexes from Danny Cruz. Fabinho sent in a cross from the left that was headed down in the box by Amobi Okugo. Cruz was fastest to the header and he hit a quick strike that found its way in for the Union’s first of the night.
Seven minutes later, the Union doubled their lead on a Crew defensive error, as Michael Parkhurst missed a header, leading to a break down the right channel for Vincent Nogueira. The Frenchman hit a low shot on goal that was deflected by Clark, but Wenger followed up on the play and tapped it in.
Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter was seconds away from sacrificing the match before Ethan Finlay came up with some heroics to keep the Crew’s hopes alive. In the 77th minute, Finlay found space between the Union’s central defenders, Ethan White and Carlos Valdes, and on a bullet Hector Jimenez cross from the right, Finlay re-directed a shot past Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Barely a minute later, the Crew tied the match as the Union’s defense crumbled under pressure again. Justin Meram took over a loose ball in the final third and with the referee playing advantage after a prior foul, Meram dribbled past Okugo and shouldered off Ray Gaddis before finishing past MacMath in dramatic fashion.
The Crew weren’t done however as the substitute Arrieta scored his first goal since May 24 when he latched on to a cross in the 82nd minute. Taking advantage of space, Bernardo Anor dished to Tony Tchani in the box. Tchani had time to pick his head up and cross on the floor to the run of Arrieta, who stuck a foot out and re-directed the cross for the Crew’s third goal.
Late-season signing Emanuel Pogatetz made his MLS and Crew debut in the 83rd minute when he entered for Ben Speas, giving the Crew a five-man defensive line. The tactic worked as the Crew held on for the thrilling victory, disappointing the home fans at PPL Park in the process.
Here are the game highlights: