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Columbus comes close, but falls to Toluca

Heading down to play Toluca, the Columbus Crew knew that no MLS team had ever won a meaningful game south of the border. That dispirited streak didn’t change on Wednesday night, as the Crew fell to Toluca 3-2.

After last week’s rough-and-tumble 2-2 draw at Crew Stadium, everyone expected an energetic second match. They weren’t disappointed.

The game sparkled to life in the 5th minute when Isaac Brizuela struck a casual, looping cross-shot from the right side. Goalkeeper Will Hesmer looked shaky and could only watch as the ball bounced off the top of the crossbar.

Chilean international Hector Mancilla, given space by the Columbus defense, then rifled a shot from 25 yards that easily beat Hesmer. But it could not beat the woodwork, and the ricochet was cleared by the Crew defense.

By all indications, the goal was going to come sooner or later. Just that no one predicted Columbus would get it.

Seconds into first-half stoppage time, an attempted one-two between Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Eddie Gaven jumped up and hit the right arm of Toluca defender Edgar Duenas. Referee Paul Ward whistled the penalty without hesitating. Schelotto, who was suspended in the first leg, drilled his shot into the back of the net to give the Crew an unlikely lead at the break.

That lead didn’t last long. Less than a minute into the second half, Ward called a second penalty after Eddie Gaven took Sinha down in the box. Mancilla calmly side-footed his hard shot past Hesmer.

In the 57th minute, Sinha gave the hosts the lead, curling a freekick from 25 yards up and over the wall. The ball slammed off the underside of the bar and over the line just inside the near post.

But Schelotto wasn’t done. Danny O’Rourke’s overlapping run in the 70th minute resulted in a threatening cross that Lenhart, screaming in at the far post, redirected off the post.

Sinha wasn’t done either. A minute later, Sinha lined up another freekick from the exact same spot as his previous goal. This time, instead of going to the near post, he whipped it to the far post. Hesmer, caught cheating and out of position, could only watch it furl the net.

Things got worse for the Crew in the 80th minute when Lenhart was shown a straight red card for an incident off the ball. Unseen by television replays, the offense was described as unsportsmanlike conduct.

Toluca had one more glorious chance, but Calderon’s shot caromed off the right post, and at the final whistle, another MLS team’s so-close story came to a close.

Cruz Azul 3, Aribe Unido 0

Make it three for three for Mexican teams in this round of the CCL. Los Azulinos got two second-half goals from Javier Orozco and one from Cesar Villaluz to glide past their Paraguayan visitors. Cruz Azul, who reached the CCL final last year, also won the first leg, 1-0.

In the last undecided quarterfinal, Pumas host Marathon on Thursday night in Mexico City.