The Columbus Crew played to a 1-1 draw on Friday night, their fourth consecutive stalemate in league play. The result obscures one of the more potent displays from the team over the last few months, with several players producing strong showings. Winger Ethan Finlay in particular featured strongly on the right flank with a goal and a wrongly-denied assist in the second half.
Of some concern will be the status of right back Hector Jimenez, who was forced from the game in the 80th minute after suffering a reckless tackle from Rapids forward Vicente Sanchez.
The Rapids created the first dangerous scoring opportunities, probing the Crew's flanks on both sides of the field. Sanchez latched onto a long ball in the second minute before shooting from a tight angle to the right of goal. Goalkeeper Steve Clark punched the ball away.
Colorado exploited the left side next when Marvell Wynne overlapped down the flank and threaded a low cross into the goal mouth. None of the Rapids players in the vicinity could make contact, however, and Jimenez was able to clear the ball to safety.
Columbus started creating chances of their own midway through the first half, with a variety of players pressing every area of the Colorado defense. Justin Meram had the strongest chance in the 24th minute when he headed a Wil Trapp cross on target, but Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin made the save to his right.
The Crew dodged a bullet with the referee in the 37th minute after Hector Jimenez appeared to undercut Sanchez in the penalty area as he leapt for a cross, but Hilario Grajeda swallowed his whistle and allowed play to continue.
The second half opened with strong pressure from Columbus, spending the first several minutes in the Rapids defensive half. It wasn't until the 53rd minute that Colorado mounted a credible threat of their own.
Controversy struck in the 56th minute when a goal from Jairo Arrieta was incorrectly nullified. Columbus quickly thrust upfield from Meram - in the Crew penalty area - to Speas, and then to Ethan Finlay flying up the right flank. Finlay crossed to an open Arrieta for the finish, but the assistant referee - still recovering his position after the quick attack - signaled offside. Replays indicated that, while Arrieta was beyond his defender, he was still behind the ball when Finlay played it across.
Three minutes later, the Rapids finally connected on an attack of their own. Again it came from the flanks, as Marvell Wynne crossed from the left channel. Gehrig and Sanchez both challenged for the ball, and it was Gehrig who inadvertently made the crucial contact, sending it spinning into his own goal.
While Columbus attempted to equalize, both teams started brining on substitutions. Alvaro Rey and Dillon Serna both entered the game in the 68th minute, replacing Justin Meram and Kamani Hill respectively. Forwards Adam Bedell and Edson Buddle followed suit in the 72nd minute, relieving Ben Speas and Deshorn Brown.
Bedell almost made an immediate impression, pouncing on a loose ball after Clint Irwin spilled a shot by Jairo Arrieta. Irwin recovered just in time, however, falling on the ball at the last moment.
Columbus finally pulled level in the 76th minute, taking advantage of a pair of poor touches by Rapids players. Dillon Powers started the sequence with a sloppy back pass that went straight to Jairo Arrieta. Arrieta's lateral ball for Ethan Finlay was only partially deflected by Jared Watts, sitting up perfectly for Finlay to slam home.
Colorado reacted well to the goal, creating a series of chances - and another controversy - within two minutes. Sanchez, Dillon Powers and Dillon Serna thrust into the penalty area in the 78th minute. Sanchez was shielded away from danger by Parkhurst, but managed to play a pass back to Powers - whose low shot was deflected by Clark. The ball fell invitingly to Serna, but Eric Gehrig stoutly stepped in to block the shot from point blank range.
As the ball bounced away to the outer regions of the penalty area, Sanchez leapt into a tackle on Hector Jimenez, landing his cleats on Jimenez' right knee. Referee Grajeda, with a clear view of the tackle, issued only a yellow card - but Jimenez had to be removed from the game on a stretcher, replaced by Chad Barson.
What it means
With 17 games played, the Crew have 20 points. That ties them with New York for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. New England and Toronto sit within three points higher up the standings - although both have games in hand over the Crew. Houston and Philadelphia each sit two points behind, having played one additional game. DC United sits atop the conference, eight points ahead of Columbus.
Columbus next takes the field in New York next Saturday, followed by a two-game home stretch next Wednesday and Saturday against Kansas City and Montreal.
Timeline of events
5' Corner kick, Colorado (left side - headed clear)
11' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - short, no shot taken)
14' Corner kick, Colorado (right side - long, no shot taken)
25' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - long shot blocked)
30' Caution, Drew Moor (reckless tackle on Ethan Finlay)
49' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - headed clear)
53' Corner kick, Colorado (left side - cleared)
59' 0-1 Eric Gehrig (own goal)
68' Dillon Serna replaces Kamani Hill
68' Alvaro Rey replaces Justin Meram
69' Corner kick, Columbus (right side - shot saved)
71' Corner kick, Colorado (left side - no shot taken)
72' Adam Bedell replaces Ben Speas
73' Edson Buddle replaces Deshorn Brown
76' 1-1 Ethan Finlay (Jairo Arrieta)
78' Caution, Vicente Sanchez (reckless tackle on Hector Jimenez)
80' Chad Barson replaces Hector Jimenez
84' Marlon Hairston replaces Dillon Powers
91' Caution, Shane O'Neill (unsportsmanlike conduct on Jairo Arrieta)
94+ Corner kick, Colorado (right side - headed clear)
95+ Corner kick, Columbus (right side - shot blocked)
Steve Clark, Hector Jimenez (Chad Barson 80'), Michael Parkhurst, Eric Gehrig, Bernardo Anor, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Ben Speas (Adam Bedell 72'), Justin Meram (Alvaro Rey 68'), Jairo Arrieta
Matt Lampson, Tyson Wahl, Kevan George, Dan Paladini
Clint Irwin, Marvell Wynne, Shane O'Neill, Drew Moor, Chris Klute, Jared Watts, Dillon Powers (Marlon Hairston 84'), Nick LaBrocca, Kamani Hill (Dillon Serna 68'), Deshorn Brown (Edson Buddle 73'), Vicente Sanchez
Marc Burch, Thomas Piermayr, Gabriel Torres, John Berner