Columbus midfielder Eddie Gaven was prescient in his forecast of what the Crew were going to face Tuesday in Torreón, Mexico.
“It seems like pretty much everything is against us,” Gaven said the day prior, "whether it’s the refs, it’s the fans, whether it’s the calls."
He could have added misfortunate bounces as well.
Little went right for the Crew, yet they came within seconds of claiming a critical point on the road against Santos Laguna in Group B play of the CONCACAF Champions before succumbing in heartbreaking manner like so many MLS teams in Mexico before.
Jorge Estrada took advantage of several awkward attempts to clear a corner kick and laced a shot from the top of the penalty are that skimmed past more Crew players and into the net in the 93rd minute for a 1-0 victory.
RECAP: Santos Laguna 1, Columbus 0
The Crew couldn't overcome a disallowed goal on the 23rd minute and questionable officiating but, in the end, just ran out of gas. The telling image was Shaun Francis limping off the field prior to the goal with a leg cramp – the rookie defender couldn't be replaced because Columbus already used all three of their substitutions.
“We played down a man for four minutes when [Francis] got a cramp,” coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com over the phone after the game. "We had players who played a lot for the first time in awhile, so they were tired.”
But Warzycha will come under questioning for not using captain Frankie Hejduk on the back line even though he is suspended for Saturday’s league game against FC Dallas. One possibility is that Hejduk, 36, was not fully recovered from going 90 minutes last Saturday against Colorado.
Hejduk's veteran leadership may have helped in the latter stages as the Crew were constantly under attack and rookie left back Francis was harangued by Santos’ forwards.
However, Warzycha was handicapped by a lineup that was without Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke and injured players Robbie Rogers and Gino Padula.
Warzycha instead call on players such as Kevin Burns (one MLS minute this season), Dilly Duka (15 minutes), Duncan Oughton (41 minutes) and Leandre Griffit (43 minutes). Duka and Griffit were subbed in the second half as was Emilio Renteria after he came up lame following a hard challenge.
But Rentería will be remembered in this game for being at the center of a controversy that will linger. In the 20th minute, Oribe Peralta got away with an elbow to the Venezuelan winger that produced a cut above his eye and plenty of blood.
Rentería went to the sideline and returned several minutes later. He started onto the field then apparently was stopped by the fourth official because his jersey didn't have a number, but he seemed to then be allowed back to play by the referee.
It took only a few seconds before Rentería sent a cross into the box that Andy Iro headed for what looked tobe a goal. After protests by Santos and several minutes of consultation by the officials, the score was taken off the board.
Warzycha blamed Mexican fourth official Ricardo Arellano.
“The referee and the fourth official allowed him to go on the field then when we scored, all of a sudden the fourth official found out he didn’t have a number," Warzycha said. "That was kind of weird.
"[Rentería] was waved onto the field by the fourth official. He saw it was a jersey without a number but it didn’t matter until he scored, I guess. Things like that always happen here [in Mexico]."
It was one of those games for the Crew. They received four yellows, a few of them almost comical for the lack of contact. Rentería's booking for the jersey fiasco was his second yellow of the tournament.
“We got yellow cards for nothing,” Warzycha said.
As the cards and suspensions mount, the coach’s goal of resting key players throughout the Champions League may be tested, and the Crew will become further strained to win a third straight Supporters’ Shield.
With the result Tuesday in Torreón, Columbus may not be able to secure a spot in the CCL quarterfinals until their final match at Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 21, the final stretch run to the MLS playoffs. The going may have just gotten tougher.