Only 15 players traveled with the Columbus Crew to Wednesday night's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in Chicago. One of them was backup goalkeeper Daniel Withrow. If you do the math, that means that Gregg Berhalter's substitution options were predetermined, with just three available field players on the bench for the Crew.
Not only that, but player availability forced the Crew into an unorthodox 5-3-2 formation, giving Ben Sweat his first professional start and Kevan George his first appearance of 2014 in Black & Gold, among other eccentricities.
Coupled with a full-strength Fire lineup unrestricted thanks to their lack of a League match this weekend, and the recipe seemed unfavorable for the Columbus. Despite that, and despite a 1-0 lead for the Fire at halftime, the second half featured a valiant comeback by the Crew, which scored twice to momentarily take a 2-1 lead before simply running out of gas.
"I thought it was a good game," said Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. "We put a different system into play. The guys knew about it at the last moment. We wanted to try something, and I think we got a lot out of that exercise. I'm proud of the way they adapted to the system and I'm proud of the way they played the game, specifically the second half, where I thought we were extremely dominant."
Jairo Arrieta's magnificent bicycle kick ignited the resurgence, which was started by Ben Sweat keeping the ball in play on the endline.
"Great goal," said Berhalter. "It was a great goal. Great movement, good finish. It was good. We need Jairo to score those goals … we want him to be dangerous."
Bernardo Anor put the Crew ahead 15 minutes later, but a late equalizer by Juan Luis Anangono sent it to extra time, where the Fire prevailed after the shorthanded Crew appeared to tire.
"If I take anything from the game, I'm most disappointed with that," said Berhalter on his club's late-match performance. "When you're at that stage of the game, you have to be disciplined enough to carry it out. I would say it's a little bit of the guys who haven't been getting enough minutes. They weren't comfortable in that position. Chicago was putting more pressure on us, and we just had to be brave and keep playing. I thought we stopped doing that. As a result, we got punished."
As a result, the Crew is now eliminated from Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play, but resumes League play on Saturday against FC Dallas.
"We don't like losing of course, but the positive thing we can get out of this is that we're going to be 100% [focused]," said Anor. "Getting those three points at home against Dallas and focusing on that 100%, that's now our priority. We're going to get good rest and get our mind ready for the game."