COLUMBUS — Columbus Crew SC returned to MAPFRE stadium after the longest road trip in MLS, going from Dallas to Portland before coming home to face the Colorado Rapids all in the same week. After gaining just a point in the two away games, Crew SC finally claimed victory Saturday 2-1.
The first goal came in the 17th minute when Gyasi Zardes scored his 16th goal of the season. It was also the 50th goal of his MLS career. Federico Higuain and Justin Meram were both awarded assists. It was the first assist or goal by Higuain since June, a welcomed return to the score sheet.
Colorado responded in the 26th minute in controversial fashion. After being awarded a foul, multiple Rapids players surrounded the ball and looked to be discussing a set piece as Crew SC players began setting up their wall. While still pretending to be in discussion, Shkelzen Gashi ran up and kicked the ball into the net past a bewildered Columbus team. Crew SC immediately surrounded the center official, Allen Chapman, to protest the call. Their argument was that the restart needed to be accompanied by a whistle, but Chapman disagreed.
“I talked at length to the referee after the game,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “His interpretation was that they have the right to play it quickly. From my viewpoint, they didn’t play it quickly. We were getting set up, everyone was getting set up. He told us to ‘back up,’ and once that happens, to me, you have to restart with a whistle. It was odd. I haven’t seen anything like that in a while.”
Said Higuain: “I think it was a big big mistake by the referee. I never speak about referees, never say nothing about them. But to be honest, it wasn’t a mistake by 10 players. If the other team plays hard, plays better than us, and scores a beautiful goal, you say, ‘OK, you scored a nice goal.’ That goal was a big mistake by the referee. You can see the video, you can check the video. There are people talking with the referee, talking to us saying, ‘Get back. Get back.'”
The game became more physical after that, with Jonathan Mensah picking up a yellow card just before halftime on a foul that injured Rapids defender Marlon Hairston. In the second half, Rapids defender Deklan Wynne was sent off for a foul on Pedro Santos. Wynne tried to play the ball through the spread legs of Santos, but he missed the ball and his knee went directly into Santos’ backside.
Columbus scored against the shorthanded squad just six minutes later. Higuain had the goal after Artur got Rapids keeper Tim Howard to dive the wrong way, leaving an open look for the veteran. Even though the call greatly benefited Columbus and Higuain, he was critical of the call.
“I believe it wasn’t a red card,” Higuain said, “I believe it was a very hard tackle, but those tackles you see them many many times in a football game. Everyone can have a bad night. The problem is if you don’t recognize it. That’s a big problem.”
Crew SC’s next match will be against the Philadelphia Union. The match holds playoff implications, as the two squads are currently sitting 4th and 5th in the Eastern Conference standings, respectively, the difference between hosting or traveling for the first playoff game. Berhalter, Higuain and team captain Wil Trapp all said they expect a “playoff atmosphere” for the tilt.