COLUMBUS – Eddie Gaven’s goal in the first minute of stoppage time continued the Crew’s string of late-game heroics and helped rekindle their playoff hopes following a 1-1 tie with Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
Their past five winning goals have all come in the 86th minute or later. While the Crew were unable to secure the three points this time, they stayed within striking range in the Eastern Conference.
Up until the final moments it appeared the day would be all Sporting after C.J. Sapong scored in the 10th minute.
His goal – his eighth of the season – came four minutes after Jairo Arrieta had a perfect chance to put the home team up. The Costa Rican was freed on a through ball from left back Josh Williams, only to see his shot parried by Jimmy Nielsen. The KC ‘keeper then got up to block Arrieta’s follow-up effort as well.
That left the door open for KC, and Sapong took advantage as the Crew defense parted. He slipped unnoticed between Chad Marshall and Sebastian Miranda and had plenty of space to snap a header onto the left post from a deflected cross off the foot of Graham Zusi.
The ball rebounded off the woodwork and fell kindly as Sapong had time to pick his spot to head home for the 1-0 lead.
Nielsen preserved the lead to the break and once again showed why he’s one of the best in MLS.
The Crew had four free kicks in the first half, and while the first three were from 35 or more yards, the next one was at the arc and within range for Federico Higuain. The Argentine pelted the shot over the wall in the 39th minute, but Nielsen read it all the way.
Arrieta had another opportunity in the 64th when he followed a cutback to elude two defenders in the box with a routine shot that Nielsen easily handled. More physical play saw Williams come off after taking a stray elbow from Sapong.
The game ended up becoming a midfield struggle, with both teams snuffing out chances in the final third and neither goalkeeper tested too sternly until stoppage.
That’s when things got wild. After a series of half chances, Gaven finally got loose 10 yards from Nielsen’s near post. With defender Lawrence Olum rooted, the veteran midfielder headed Emilio Renteria’s cross past Nielsen to rally the Crew once again.
KC charged down the other end in search of the game-winner, only to see midfielder Roger Espinoza’s chance snuffed out by Crew ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum. Adding injury to insult, Espinoza had to be carted off with an undetermined leg injury.
Columbus (14-11-7, 49 points) are five back of third-place D.C., four behind New York and one out of the final playoff spot held by Houston. All those teams a pair of games remaining.
Sporting Kansas City (17-7-8, 59) lost ground in trying to catch San Jose for the Supporters’ Shield, but put a little distance between themselves and second place Chicago (56 points) in the East.