COLUMBUS – There were many reasons why Columbus would have been happy exiting Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a scoreless draw against Colorado. The Crew was playing for the second time in four days on the road and in its third match in eight days while also having to contend with an altitude level that can sap the air from the lungs. All that being said, there was is no excuse for the way a possible point turned into a 1-0 defeat on Saturday.
With just over 10 minutes left on the clock, Colorado went down a man when midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was ejected for a mild skirmish with forward Steven Lenhart in the 76th minute. Somehow, instead of taking advantage of the situation, Columbus became careless and allowed Rapids defender Drew Moor to score in the 85th on a header after a free kick.
“You’ve got 11 players on the field, but if you can’t win individual battles at crunch time that’s the result,” Crew assistant coach Mike Lapper said.
Head coach Robert Warzycha was not in attendance because of his daughter’s high school graduation in Columbus.
It was the second game in a row in which the Crew (6-2-3) have lost points because of a late goal that could have been prevented if the defense paid attention.
“It’s supposed to be the other way around,” midfielder Adam Moffat said. “We’re the team known for scoring on set pieces.”
But not this time, and that’s why the Crew have two losses and a draw since opening the season unbeaten in eight games.
Reserve right back Jed Zayner was caught ball-watching on the decisive play as Jamie Smith’s ball floated across the field to near the left post. Zayner was flat-footed as Moor went over him to head the ball past goalkeeper William Hesmer.
The past three games have been tough for Zayner, who’s been filling in for injured Frankie Hejduk. Eric Brunner, who normally plays at center back, got the starting nod over Zayner on the right but had to leave in the 53rd with a hip injury.
That Zayner was not included in the starting lineup was not a surprise. After filling in so well last season for Frankie Hejduk, he’s struggled lately.
First, Zayner left the backdoor open against LA, which allowed Michael Stephens to score an easy goal a week ago. On Wednesday against San Jose, Zayner unnecessary fouled Bobby Convey just outside the penalty area on the left side, which led to the Quakes’ tying goal in the 79th minute.
“That’s the beauty of soccer,” Lapper said. “You play so well then the game comes down to individual battles. It’s a kick in the teeth but I can’t fault the guys. The attitude was right. The energy and commitment to play was there. They stuck to the game plan.”
But instead of beauty, the players would rather have results.
“We’re disappointed with not getting a point,” defender Andy Iro said. “At this level, you’ll get punished. For whatever reasons, different players at different times had lapses. I don’t know if it’s the number of games we’ve played the last three weeks, [but] that’s really no excuse. We have some tired legs and probably some tired minds.”
Blaming the latest defeat on Zayner would be foolish. There were enough culprits to go around, especially leading scorer Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
In the 74th minute, Eddie Gaven made a nice dribble through traffic and passed to Lenhart at the top of the box. Lenhart put a crafty heel-touch to Schelotto for an open shot from 10 yards on the left side, but the Argentine shot it 10 yards over the goal in a colossal flub.
“Nine times out of 10 it’s in the back of the net,” Lapper said.
The midfield dustup that saw Mastroeni off after Lenhart’s foul on him occurred just a few minutes after Schelotto’s miss.
As Mastroeni lay on the ground, Lenhart kicked the ball into his stomach and he retaliated in front of referee Kevin Stott.
The Crew’s only good opportunity with the one-man advantage came in the 84th minute, when Schelotto’s free kick went to the far post but Iro was unable to put a header target. After that, the Rapids (6-3-1) went down the field and showed Columbus the proper way to do it.
“We’ve played pretty well in the past three games,” Moffat said. “We felt we should have won at least two of those games and gotten points in all of them.”
Columbus now head into the three-week World Cup break hoping, for obvious reasons, that defenders Frankie Hejduk and Danny O’Rourke recover from their injuries during that time.