It was the middle of the second half, and the Crew were weary. They had been down a man for 50 minutes by that point and were desperately looking for the tying goal against Houston on Wednesday.
An unlikely hero stepped up in the form of rookie defender Eric Gehrig. The center back provided the lifeline in the 64th minute with a cross that jump-started the Crew, as they turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-2 draw.
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Gehrig had taken over for Chad Marshall at the start of the second half when the captain experienced pain in his hip after being knocked to the ground early in the match.
Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha said an MRI will be done on Thursday to determine the damage to Marshall, who had played every minute this season until the injury.
To make matters worse, the Crew were playing short-handed since Emmanuel Ekpo’s red card for hitting Adam Moffat in the 11th minute. Consequently they spent much of the rest of the match on the back foot, with chances coming few and far between.
But eventually Gehrig found space and sent a service into the center of the box that resulted in a handball call on Cam Weaver. Andrés Mendoza converted, and did so a second time in the 76th minute before Houston’s Calen Carr got the equalizer 10 minutes later.
“Under the circumstances it was a great point at home,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
On the first PK, Mendoza drew a foul just outside the penalty area on the left side. The ensuing free kick was cleared across to Gehrig.
“The ball popped out behind me,” he said. “I could have gone either with my left or my right. I made a one-touch cut to my right toward the end line. I actually served a really good ball. It had a nice little swerve on it. Anytime you can put it back in the mixer it’s going to be dangerous. It worked out well for me."
The second call in favor of the Eastern Conference leaders (11-9-8, 41 points) was off a corner kick when Je-Vaughn Watson got his foot into the stomach of Dilly Duka as Duka attempted a shot. Mendoza went left on his first try and to the right on the second. He now has 11 goals on the season, tied for second in the league.
“I decided to go a different direction because I knew the ‘keeper would go the same way where I shot it [the first time],” he said. “Most important, the ball went in both times.”