The ball was on the right foot of defender Josh Williams for an instant and all that stood between him and the potential tying goal was 10 yards and Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
In the short period of time it took for the blistering volley to travel that distance, Johnson had the near post covered and was able to deflect the Columbus Crew’s last best chance in the 79th minute to come out of Toyota Park with at least a point on Saturday.
Instead, the 2-1 loss leaves the Crew (13-11-6, 45 points) teetering on the edge of falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff chase after their third loss in four games.
“I can’t hit it much harder than that,” Williams said. “I don’t know if he made the save or he tried to keep his head on, but he got his hands up and knocked it out of the way.”
Williams has played all three backline spots – he was at left back for this match – but no matter where he sets up misfortune follows.
Despite getting his first career goal at Philadelphia on Aug. 29, he’s had a couple of goals disallowed because of questionable offside calls and four other attempts either hit the post, cleared off the line or stopped by great saves such as the one by Johnson.
This time a long free kick by Federico Higuain bounded out of gaggle of heads to Williams for what he thought was a sure goal.
“It was one of those where you hit the sweet pot,” he said. “I thought my hard luck was over at Philly.”
Of course, the Crew wouldn’t have been in that position if they didn’t squander an early lead, just as they did a week earlier in a loss at New York.
Jairo Arrieta took advantage of Johnson’s turnover to make it 1-0 in the 15th but Chris Rolfe responded in the 23rd and 26th minutes.
“Rolfe had an amazing touch and a very good finish,” Crew defender Julius James said.
The Crew is one point behind fifth-place Houston for the final postseason spot and two back of D.C. After Sunday’s games between the Dynamo and Philadelphia and D.C. vs. Chivas USA, the three contenders will have four matches left.
“Especially when you’re trying to make the playoffs, you’ve got to make those early goals stand,” Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “We’re giving up the lead too quickly on the road right after we get one.”