After fighting back from a 1-0 deficit in the second half to take the lead, the Crew unfortunately had to settle for a draw following an 81st minute equalizer by the Dynamo tied the game at 2-2 and resulted in both teams earning a single point.
Coach Warzycha made five changes to Columbus’ starting XI from the last game against Philadelphia. Gone were Shaun Francis, Eric Gehrig, Kirk Urso, Ethan Finlay, and Aaron Schoenfeld. Replacing them were Nemanja Vukovic (left back), Josh Williams (center defense), Danny O’Rourke, Tony Tchani, and Emilio Renteria. The game was both Vukovic’s and Williams’ first start for the first team.
The Crew lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation, with O’Rourke as the lone defensive midfielder. Eddie Gaven started on the left side of midfield, Milovan Mirosevic held down the middle in front of O’Rourke, and Tchani was positioned at right midfield. Tchani usually plays in the middle of the field, but he didn’t necessarily have a bad game on the right. He was late for a few tackles (earning a yellow card) and didn’t produce that much on the offensive end. He probably isn’t the answer to a wide midfield spot. Houston lined up in a more standard 4-4-2.
Columbus started the game on a mission. Just twenty seconds in, Mirosevic released a crack from distance which took a deflection and went just wide of the left post. The onslaught continued steadily for the first ten minutes.
With Urso out of the starting lineup for the first time this year, corner kick duties were reserved for Mirosevic and Vukovic, depending on what side the corner was being taken from. While the quality may not have been as good as Urso’s, his absence on set pieces was made up for by O’Rourke playing the dog fight that is the defensive midfielder position. The Crew had been lacking a bit of bite in that spot all year, and O’Rourke was a more than adequate replacement for Urso. If Robert Warzycha wants to play with one defensive destroyer, O’Rourke is the only one healthy right now who can fulfill that role.
While the first half ended 0-0, the game was anything but boring. Both teams had numerous chances, but Columbus looked the more dangerous side. The team seemed much more willing to attack and try different things than they did in previous games. A couple plays successfully dribbled at the defense, and a few tried volleys that would have been goal of the year candidates had they gone in. In the 25th minute, Renteria beat his man on a turn and dribbled toward the right corner. He whipped in a cross that was just inches over Olman Vargas’ head. The Dynamo almost pulled ahead right before the break after two good chances. Crew goalie Andy Gruenebaum made a nice near-post save and the resulting corner kick ended in the ball hitting the side netting. Nevertheless, the half ended with no goals.
Houston finally broke though first in the 59th minute. Forward Brian Ching blasted a shot that Gruenebuam was forced to just tip over the bar after his diving save. The following corner kick by former Crew player Adam Moffat found Will Bruin, whose flick on header at the near post ended up in the back of the net at the far post. It was quite an an acrobatic header and definitely one that deserved a goal.
However, Columbus didn’t wait too long to equalize. In the 63rd minute, the Dynamo attempted to make two back passes, both which were left way short of their intended target. The result was a race for the loose ball between Renteria and Houston goalie Tally Hall. Hall reached the ball first and tried to head it away. Instead, it went down into the ground and right to Gaven, who passed it into the goal with his left foot.
In the 67th minute, Aaron Schoenfeld came on for Renteria at the forward position. Schoenfeld had quite the productive game after coming on, including a 71st minute strike that almost beat Hall at his near post.
Warzycha made another sub in the 72nd minute, this time replacing Tchani with Ethan Finlay. I question why Tchani started the game in an unfamiliar position, but this sub was a smart one as Tchani was sitting on a yellow card.
The Crew took the lead on a beautifully worked goal in the 74th. O’Rourke switched the ball from the center of the field over to Vukovic on the left flank. Vukovic played in a long cross that found Schoenfeld near the top of the box. Schoenfeld chested the ball back to Gaven, who unleashed a left-footed rocket that reached the top of the net past Hall’s diving hands.
It would have been nice for Columbus to pick up a home win to stop their loosing streak, but Houston tied the game late in the 81st minute. Defender Chad Marshall cleared a cross from Dynamo defender Andre Hainault. However, his clearance went right to Will Bruin. Bruin drilled the ball back across the face of goal and found Brian Ching, who slipped right between Marshall and right back Sebastian Miranda to tap the ball into the goal.
With the game tied, Warzycha’s last sub was a straight switch at left back. Vukovic came out and Shaun Francis came in. Why you would use your last sub as a defensive one is beyond me, especially with how well Vukovic played in his first Crew start. Vukovic was up and down the left flank all night, whipping in crosses and beating Houston’s players with ease. I was definitely impressed with the Montenegrin and can’t wait to see more out of him.
Columbus had one last great opportunity to leave the game as victors. In the 88th minute, Miranda crossed the ball from the right side. Olman Vargas’ header was saved by Hall, but the ball fell right back to Vargas. His left-footed attempt was then saved, but the ball fell right to Schoenfeld. Schoenfeld’s header was saved, but the ball stayed in the air. Schoenfeld headed the ball again and finally beat Hall, but the ball was cleared off the line. And with that, the game ended 2-2.
The Man of the Match had to be Eddie Gaven. After not scoring or assisting on any goals through the first five games, Gaven scored a brace. However, he did much more than that last night. He was constantly coming to the ball in the attacking third, trying to engineer a goal-scoring opportunity. He was dribbling through Houston’s defense, leading the attack, making good runs and nice passes. This is the Gaven that we knew existed but hadn’t seen in 2012 up to this game. Whatever he ate, drank, or did before the game, please, someone make sure he does it again.