Settling for a tie at New England is not the stuff champions are made of, but the Columbus Crew finally showed some signs of resiliency after once again yielding an early lead.
In a game that seemed destined to follow the pattern of the past two matches, in which the Crew dug a hole then buried themselves, there was a different outcome Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
With the Eastern Conference lead at stake, the chances for the Supporters’ Shield slipping to almost zero and a three-game losing streak looming, Columbus rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second half for a 2-2 tie with the New England Revolution – not the ideal result, but better than the alternative.
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Francis set up a goal by Steven Lenhart in the 62nd minute – which was originally credited to Revs defender Cory Gibbs as an own-goal – that gave the Crew life and Guillermo Barros Schelotto converted his fourth penalty of the season in the 78th to complete the comeback.
“We were dissatisfied that we gave up a goal at the beginning, but we fought back after that and created some chances,” Lenhart said. “We showed we had fight and a little bit of character. We did good to get back in it and salvage a tie. We’re all right with that.”
The Crew (13-7-6, 45 points) lead New York by a point with four games left and also hold the tiebreaker over the Red Bulls. New York beat overall point leaders Los Angeles on Friday to put pressure on the Crew.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” defender Eric Brunner said. “We knew we needed to get points after the result New York got in LA.”
To say the comeback was huge is an understatement. When New England’s Pat Phelan scored unmarked off a free kick in the second minute, thoughts of “Here we go again” had to rumble through the minds of Crew fans everywhere.
It was a week ago that Seattle Sounders FC got a goal in the fourth minute en route to a 4-0 victory.
“We need to be tuned in at the beginning of the game,” Brunner said. “It was a case of losing the individual battles. That happens sometimes, but we need to be sharper.”
In the match prior to Seattle, Los Angeles went on top in the 13th minute and led 3-0 before the Crew got a meaningless score with five minutes left. There was an eerie feel of Seattle Part II vs. the Revs.
“We found a little more space” Lenhart said. “It was a little bit different than Seattle. We were creating more and it did have that feel that we were going to get one back. We kept our head in it.”
If there was a hero for the Crew, it was Francis. He supplied the cross for which Lenhart lunged in front of Gibbs to make it 2-1.
“[Francis] made a nice push,” Lenhart said. “I had space at the near post. It was a good ball.”
Later, Francis’ shot was blocked in the box by Joseph to set up the tying spot kick.
“I tried to bend it to the far post and it hit his hand,” Francis said.
Satisfied with getting the equalizer, the Crew went into a protective mode the final five minutes.
“Maybe we should have done better and got the three points,” Brunner said.
The Crew play in Guatemala on Tuesday in a Champions League match, needing only a tie against Municipal to advance to the knockout stage. Their next MLS game is Oct. 2 vs. visiting San Jose.