The outcome didn’t look good at Crew Stadium.
For most of the Columbus Crew’s game Saturday night against D.C. United, the team trailed and couldn’t find the final touch that would at least earn it a draw.
Trailing 1-0 late, the Crew was playing shorthanded soccer against United after midfielder Bernardo Anor received a red card in the 81st minute, and the window of opportunity for a comeback at home looked to be quickly closing.
Midfielders Wil Trapp and Hector Jimenez, however, saved their best plays for last.
With the final seconds of regulation ticking away, Trapp chased down D.C. forward Fabian Espindola from behind, stole the ball, and moments later lofted a pass down field that hit Jimenez in stride, just outside of the box.
Trapp’s counterattack became the assist Jimenez needed to notch the equalizer in the 90th minute on a crossing shot, helping Columbus fight to a 1-1 draw when defeat seemed all but certain.
“The result in that game was looking grim,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game. “And, you know, they (D.C. United) were tight, they were really defensive-orientated. And we went down a man. But the guys didn’t quit and I commend them on that … That effort, to not give up in that game and get something out of the game was spectacular.”
Anor was shown a red card for sliding cleats-up into the legs of United midfielder Perry Kitchen, who was not injured on the play.
The late booking could have been a demoralizing game-breaker for the Crew, but the team instead rallied to get the draw.
“We were down a man at that point. Wil was able to play a great ball to me,” Jimenez said after the game. “Before I kicked it, I saw a little gap and I was just happy it went in. We would have loved to have three points tonight, but it’s always nice to get one.”
Failure to capitalize on scoring opportunities saw the Crew trailing United — a team they defeated handily, 3-0, March 8 on the road in the season opener — by a goal for most of the match, following a 31st minute goal by Espindola.
Berhalter was critical of his team’s overall performance, despite the positive upswing that concluded the game.
“Our game wasn’t on today and I’m disappointed in that more than anything,” Berhalter said. “We were looking forward to playing a great game and really putting them under pressure.”
An unforced error by Columbus forward Federico Higuain proved costly, and United took advantage.
A turnover in transition by the Argentine to D.C. midfielder Nick DeLeon quickly developed into a deep push in the attacking third, and DeLeon subsequently got the assist on the Espindola goal.
Columbus worked harder rather than smarter for the majority of the match.
The Crew owned a 61 percent time of possession advantage on the day and boasted a passing accuracy percentage of 83 — impressive in its stark contrast to the 69 percent posted by D.C. — but couldn’t find pay dirt until the very end.
“I would say it was a little frustrating,” Trapp said of the overall feel of the game leading up to his assist on the tying goal. “To give up the goal when I thought we had more of the ball, we were just a little off on a couple giveaways here and there but mistakes are going to happen.”
The looks were there early, but the finishing touch was lacking for the Black and Gold. Well-intentioned passes to forward Dominic Oduro were off-target and led to two offsides calls in the first half.
While the Crew looked like the more athletic team even in struggling to convert, credit is due to D.C.’s backline for hunkering down defensively to repel attacks from every direction.
“We kept faith in each other and that belief, and I mean, it’s like what Gregg told us at halftime,” Trapp said. “We had to believe that we could come back and everyone on the team believed, and that’s what carried us through.”
Columbus is 3-1-2 on the season and ranks second in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Black and Gold is set to welcome the New York Red Bulls (1-2-4) to town this Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.