A 3-2 away loss in the nation’s capital against D.C. United on Saturday night clinched the Columbus Crew’s postseason fate. Unfortunately, it is a different fate for the first time since 2008, as they will not be taking part in the playoffs. With the Houston Dynamo’s 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union, they are now four points out of postseason with only one game remaining. The Crew’s 2012 season will ultimately end on October 28th following the conclusion of their home meeting against Toronto FC. The win secured D.C. a playoff spot for the first time in five years.
The Crew’s starting lineup changed during warmups. Captain Chad Marshall was scratched after suffering ankle stiffness. Danny O’Rourke moved from his position at defensive midfielder back to central defense to cover for Marshall’s absence. Chris Birchall came in at the holding midfielder position next to Milovan Mirosevic to fill for O’Rourke. Justin Meram and Eddie Gaven started on the wings, while Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta started up top. D.C. lined up in a 4-4-2 formation featuring a diamond midfield.
Columbus were the early aggressors and took their first of two leads in the 7th minute. Gaven played the ball wide to Josh Williams on the left flank, who served in a cross that found Arrieta. Arrieta’s header took a deflection off a D.C. defender, sending the ball in the air. Gaven ran onto the loose ball before anyone else and passed the ball out of the air past D.C. goalie Bill Hamid and into the net.
A combination of bad passes and missed clearances resulted in D.C. equalizing in the 39th minute. Carlos Mendes missed a lunging attempt to stab the ball away before two bad passes from Gaven and Birchall gave the ball back to Maicon Santos. Santos’ shot attempt went directly to forward partner Lionard Pajoy. Pajoy turned and fired off a shot with his left foot. Crew goalie Andy Gruenebaum made the save, pushing the ball to the far post. However, Nick DeLeon was right there and tapped the ball into the empty net.
The game did not remain tied for long. Two minutes after D.C.’s first goal, Jairo Arrieta gave the Crew the lead once again. A two-man counter attack lead by Arrieta and Federico Higuain resulted in Arrieta receiving the ball right at the top of the box. He placed a right-footed shot toward goal, striking the far post and hitting the diving Hamid’s leg. The deflection knocked the ball into the net.
D.C. once again tied the game in the 59th minute. A long cross from Andy Najar was not cleared properly by the Crew defense. Brandon McDonald tapped the ball toward Marcelo Saragosa at the top of the box. Saragosa hit a one-time shot with his left foot. The ball went directly into the right side of the net past Gruenebaum’s diving hands.
With Houston leading their game, the Crew needed three points to keep their playoff hopes alive. Columbus almost took the lead in the 83rd minute, but Milovan Mirosevic’s shot from inside the box was blocked.
They continued their pressure into stoppage time. The Crew had eight players near the box when Chris Korb played a long ball, releasing Branko Boskovic and Lewis Neal. Birchall was the only defender back, but Boskovic’s excellent ball played Neal clean through on goal. Gruenebaum came out of the box to pressure, but Neal slotted the ball past him, securing D.C.’s playoff spot while knocking Columbus completely out of the postseason.