Crew coach Robert Warzycha was prescient in an interview a few days after his club allowed the tying goal in stoppage time at FC Dallas earlier this month.
“If you look at any team in the world, that’s going to happen in the course of a season,” he said of yielding late goals.
Jump to last Saturday and Warzycha probably was having flashbacks when he saw how the ending of the Manchester derby was similar to the Crew’s 2-2 draw vs. Dallas.
Less than a minute remained in stoppage time when City’s Craig Bellamy kicked the ball out of the attacking zone rather than dribble downfield away from harm. The ball went 30 yards across the field and was intercepted near the center circle at the 92:24 mark of the scoreless match. The television commentator called it a “Hollywood pass” for being fancy but lacking value.
Seven passes and 18 seconds later, the turnover resulted in the winning goal for United’s Paul Scholes.
Like Man City, the Crew didn't do a good job of killing the clock and lost points when Eric Avila scored in the 93rd minute with the aid of a quick and controversial restart.
“One point on the road is good but the way the game ended we all have bad tastes in our mouths,” Warzycha said. “The game ends up on the last kick and the last kick was a goal.”
The late score was reminiscent of the Crew’s early-season woes in 2009 when they lost eight potential points beyond the 82nd minute in the first nine games. Warzycha, though, didn’t view the Dallas game as the start of a trend.
“I’m not blaming my players for that because it was something else,” he said.
He didn’t elaborate, but it’s clear he felt the decision by referee Jasen Anno to allow FCD to play the ball while the Crew were still getting set cost it the game and a player.
U.S. Soccer agreed in its weekly referee review when it said that Anno erred. Without the sneaky free kick, there might not have been the tying goal and certainly defender Danny O’Rourke wouldn't have been red-carded for abusive language.
“At the end of the year, hopefully, we’ve positioned ourselves where we can look back and say to ourselves it was good we got that point on the road,” midfielder Brian Carroll said. “But at the same time, we need to learn that we’re good enough team to put teams away.”
The Crew corrected their mistakes last season and over the final 21 regular-season games, lost points in the final 10 minutes only once: a 2-1 defeat at FC Dallas when they yielded scores in the 80th and 87th minutes.
Meanwhile, the Crew turned ties into victories in the final moments three times during that span.
“You’re going to win some games in the last minute and you’re going to lose some games in the last minute, or, you can tie in the last minute," Warzycha said. "That’s the give and take.”
With Real Salt Lake visiting Crew Stadium on Saturday, more bad memories of late tallies are bound to resurface.
In the first leg of the 2009 conference semifinals, the Crew were moments away from an important 0-0 draw on the road when Robbie Findley scored in the 88th minute to give RSL the advantage. The Royals then stunned the Crew 3-2 in Columbus to claim the total goals series en route to winning the MLS Cup.
Carroll wouldn't be surprised if Saturday’s rematch goes down to the wire.
“Look around the league," he said. "There’s a lot of late goals to tie or win. I can’t put a finger on it. Teams are scrapping for every point they get. It’s all about killing time through taking the ball to the corner or keeping possession and playing smart, solid defense and getting numbers behind the ball.”