COLUMBUS, Ohio — A well-played first half by the Columbus Crew had them up 1-0 and feeling good. The players and their fans wanted to send Zack Steffen out with a win against NYCFC. It was the final game for the goalkeeper before he joins the United States men’s national team for the Gold Cup and then transfers to Manchester City.
But that hope would not come to pass. A wild and physical second half led to a 2-2 draw Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium.
The goal in the first half came on a penalty kick. Pedro Santos was taken down in the box and Gyasi Zardes converted the PK in the 28th minute for his sixth goal of the season. Santos appeared to injure his arm on the play, but stayed in the game after trainers checked him out.
Though the two teams combined for 14 fouls and two yellow cards (one on each squad), the game didn’t appear overly physical at first. That changed in the second half. The fouls came quick and hard. A defensive breakdown in the 57th minute allowed NYCFC to tie the game at 1. Heber scored the goal after a three-on-two play broke out. Assists went to Maximiliano Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who came on just at the end of the first half for an injured Ben Sweat.
Columbus took the lead again quickly, though, when Santos scored off a pass from David Accam in the 61st minute. Despite getting his first assist with the team, Accam was not pleased with the game overall.
“Today felt like we lost. We took the lead twice and we played at home. For me, we play at home, we should win every game. I don’t care New York, anyone, we play at home we win every game,” Accam said.
NYCFC pushed for the win and Columbus had a hard time containing the visitors, leading to a flurry of fouls. Eventually, the Pigeons equalized again when Valentin Castellanos scored a rocket from distance in the 76th minute. Steffen had no chance to save it, and the Crew failed to take the lead for a third time.
Columbus ended up with three yellow cards and 21 fouls conceded, well above their former season high of 16 fouls. NYCFC gave up 17 fouls, with two yellow cards.
As the game came to an end, fans chanted “Thank you Zack,” in appreciation not just of his two saves that kept Columbus in the game tonight, but for his performance the past three seasons.
”I wish I had him longer,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said, “I only had him for a short time. He’s an outstanding goalkeeper, one of the most complete goalkeepers I’ve ever worked with and seen. He’s got it all.”
Columbus now has a long stretch between league games due to MLS taking a break for the Gold Cup. The Crew’s next MLS game is June 23rd against Sporting Kansas City. They’ll need that break as injuries continue to mount. Josh Williams left the match with a hamstring injury, the fifth fullback to go down this year for Columbus.
“I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with this [many injuries] all at once,” Porter said, “I’ve been through a lot of wars. I’ve lost battles, lost men, gotten punched in the face…I feel like I’ve taken eight bullets to the head and I’m still up and living and fighting. That’s me. For sure, it’s been one of the toughest seasons I’ve ever had to manage.”