With their playoff berth assured, the Columbus Crew were at risk of a let-down on Sunday afternoon, playing away to high-scoring New York. Instead, it was the visitors who jumped out to an early lead and held on for a 3-1 victory. Aaron Schoenfeld scored on either side of halftime, while Ethan Finlay contributed a goal and an assist.
The victory pushes the Crew ahead of New York in the Eastern Conference. Their 49 points are level with Kansas City, but Sporting wins the tiebreaker for third place in the standings. Should the Crew better Kansas City’s result next weekend, they will finish the season in third place and avoid the one game play-in round.
Columbus nearly took the lead as early as the seventh minute. Justin Meram carved open the New York defense with a pass to Ethan Finlay on the right flank, but Finlay’s threaded pass behind the back line was inches too far beyond Aaron Schoenfeld.
The pair finally succeeded in joining forces in the 18th minute. Finlay, fed by Wil Trapp in the right channel, found Schoenfeld at the near post. While his first attempt got the ball caught under his feet, the New York defense was lax and he had time for a second shot – which caromed off his marker’s leg and into the roof of the net.
New York had a handful of chances to equalize, starting in the 23rd minute via Bradley Wright-Phillips and again in the 27th from Thierry Henry. In each case, however, goalkeeper Steve Clark or a Crew defender were able to deny the opportunity.
The Crew doubled their advantage ten minutes before halftime. Tony Tchani split the New York defense from deep in midfield, where Ethan Finlay ran onto the pass and slotted his shot behind Luis Robles. Finlay’s 11th goal of the season came dramatically against the run of play, but gave the Crew some breathing room. Clark made a final dramatic save on Wright-Phillips in the 41st minute, and the visitors made half time with their two-goal lead intact.
New York rallied in the second half, and clawed a goal back near the hour mark. Loyd Sam dribbled through a pair of Crew defenders in the left channel before catching Clark at the near post. The strike gave the home team some hope, and set up some nervy moments for the Crew back line. The quartet of Wright-Phillips, Henry, Sam and Peguy Luyindula all had looks at goal, but none found the back of the net.
Columbus restored a two-goal lead when Schoenfeld capped a sweeping passing sequence with ten minutes to play. Reminiscent of the first goal, the Crew carved open the New York defense via passes with Finlay in a wide position, and this time Schoenfeld finished with more composure from the heart of the penalty area.
The victory sets up a dramatic conclusion to the 2014 season, at home to Philadelphia next Sunday. DC United has clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, while New England will finish second. The final three positions will fall to Kansas City, New York and Columbus – all of whom finish the season next Sunday. Columbus will kick off first, against Philadelphia at 4 PM. New York and Kansas City then face off at 8:30.
For the Crew, the permutations essentially boil down to the same motivation as they’ve played under the last few weeks: avoid a let-down, and just win the next game.
Timeline of events
3′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – headed off target by Anor)
8′ Corner kick, Columbus (left side – short, shot off target from Anor)
18′ 1-0 Aaron Schoenfeld (Ethan Finlay, Wil Trapp)
28′ Corner kick, New York (left side – foul called on New York)
35′ 2-0 Ethan Finlay (Tony Tchani)
36′ Corner kick, New York (right side – caught by Clark)
38′ Corner kick, Columbus (left side – no shot taken)
42′ Corner kick, New York (left side – headed clear by Tyson Wahl)
47+ Corner kick, New York (left side – headed clear)
45′ Emanuel Pogatetz replaces Michael Parkhurst
50′ Corner kick, New York
56′ Caution, Bradley Wright-Phillips (foul)
57′ Corner kick, New York
58′ 2-1 Loyd Sam (unassisted)
59′ Corner kick, New York
61′ Ambroise Oyongo replaces Peguy Luyindula
61′ Chad Barson replaces Justin Meram
76′ Corner kick, Columbus
77′ Caution, Hector Jimenez (delay of game)
77′ Corner kick, Columbus (right side – foul called)
79′ Ruben Bover replaces Dax McCarty
80′ 3-1 Aaron Schoenfeld (Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain)
81′ Corner kick, New York (left side – cleared)
82′ Eric Gehrig replaces Hector Jimenez
83′ Caution, Jamison Olave (foul)
89′ Caution, Armando (foul on Bernardo Anor)
Steve Clark, Hector Jimenez (Eric Gehrig 82), Michael Parkhurst (Emanuel Pogatetz 45), Tyson Wahl, Bernardo Anor, Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani, Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram (Chad Barson 61), Aaron Schoenfeld
Matt Lampson, Kevan George, Ben Speas, Jairo Arrieta
Luis Robles, Armando, Jamison Olave, Richard Eckersley, Roy Miller, Dax McCarty (Ruben Bover 79), Eric Alexander, Lloyd Sam, Peguy Luyindula (Ambroise Oyongo 61), Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips
Ryan Meara, Chris Duvall, Ian Christianson, Saer Sene, Damien Perrinelle