Cody Cousino / Lantern photographer
The Columbus Crew were eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs by the Colorado Rapids at Columbus Crew Stadium on Saturday.
Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers scored to lift the Crew to a 2-0 lead and a 2-1 lead in the all-important aggregate series score. Colorado’s Conor Casey shocked a crowd of 10,322 with a late tally to tie the series score at 2-2 and send the match to overtime. The game was decided by a penalty kick shootout after two scoreless 15-minute overtime periods.
Trailing 5-4 in the shootout after each penalty kick had been converted for both teams, Crew midfielder Brian Carroll sailed his spot-kick well above Colorado keeper Matt Pickens’ goal to end the game and Columbus’ season.
The Crew pushed hard for goals early in the match. In the fourth minute, Gaven slotted a well-placed ball past Pickens only to see his shot carom off the inside of the left post. The Crew nearly took the lead in the eighth minute courtesy of forward Andres Mendoza, who broke in on Pickens but fired his shot wide after being pressured by Colorado defender Drew Moor.
Considering the Crew’s opening 20-minute surge, in which they fired the first six shots and took each of the first two corner kicks, a goal seemed imminent. Gaven delivered the long-awaited goal in the 22nd minute off of Guillermo Barros-Schelotto’s headed centering pass. The goal gave Columbus a 1-0 lead in the match and tied the aggregate series scoreline at 1-1.
Despite being statistically dominated for much of the first half, the Rapids fought back and finished the first half with eight shots.
Columbus coach Robert Warzycha felt positive about the first half despite the Crew’s missed chances.
“We started the game the way we wanted,” Warzycha said. “We scored a nice goal in the 22nd minute, and everything was going according to plan.”
Robbie Rogers continued to execute Warzycha’s game plan when he scored in the 70th minute and gave Columbus a 2-0 lead in the match and a 2-1 lead in the series scoreline.
“We were extremely demoralized after their second goal,” Rapids coach Gary Smith said. “That would have been the final nail in the coffin for a lot of teams, but our personnel have that grit and determination, so we knew it wasn’t over.”
Desperately seeking goals, Colorado produced the point it needed in the 84th minute when Omar Cummings linked up with Casey, who knocked the ball past Andy Gruenebaum. The late goal tied the aggregate series score at 2-2 with just six minutes remaining in regulation.
The two 15-minute overtime sessions that followed the end of regulation produced similar near-misses. Colorado’s best chance came when Cummings dribbled up-field while Crew defender Shaun Francis was on the ground with a cramp. Cummings slid Macoumba Kandji into the box for an uncontested shot but Gruenebaum made the save.
Tension slowly fizzled as the time ran low in the overtime periods and both teams anticipated the penalty kick shootout that would decide who would move on to host the conference championship.
The Rapids kicked first in the shootout. The first nine shot attempts were converted, but Jamie Smith gave the Rapids a 5-4 lead on Colorado’s fifth shot. Columbus’ fate was up to Carroll, who sailed his kick over Pickens to give Colorado the 3-2 aggregate series victory.
“There can’t be a more heartbreaking way to end a season,” Crew defender Frankie Hejduk said. “I’d rather lose in the run of play than in a shootout.”